2023 119 ENV

Plasticity of the Behavior of the Sea Star Leptasterias spp. Found in Wave-Exposed and Wave-Protected Habitats

By: Princess Marguerite Guzman

Department: Biology

Faculty Advisor: Dr. C. Sarah Cohen

Sea stars are known to have behaviors in the field that include a righting response and attachment using tube feet. These behaviors help stars survive by protecting them from displacement by waves, mobility to capture prey, and protection from predators. Over a month, I am testing the plasticity of these behaviors among two different species of Leptasterias. L. pusilla are commonly found in wave-exposed zones which would be associated with strong attachment strength, and L. aequalis are commonly found in wave-protected zones which would be associated with faster righting response times. I am testing righting response and attachment to determine if the Leptasterias spp. sea stars are able to adapt their behaviors to new environments. I hypothesize that a sea star taken from its native habitat will acclimate to a common garden experiment with lower water motion compared to the field. After a month of acclimation, their attachment strength will decrease and flip times will increase for both species. This outcome would suggest attachment strength needs to be stronger in the field for protection from waves and predators. Creating an environment with less wave action would decrease the need for that behavior to be expressed. Stars may conserve energy from not attaching as strongly, allowing them to allocate that energy to faster righting response times in the lab.