Undergraduate experiential learning leads to peer review publication

Effects of handling and short-term captivity: a multi-behaviour approach using red sea urchins, Mesocentrotus franciscanus

What happens to sea urchins when they are collected & returned to the wild? In 2016, the Scientific Diving students took to the water to find out.

Animals are caught from the wild and brought into captivity for various reasons. At BMSC, we do this often to allow students to observe, experiment and learn about marine animals that lie below the surface. But what happens to those animals when they’re returned to the wild? In summer 2016, students in the Scientific Diving course took to the water to find out. They collected red sea urchins, tagged them, and then returned them to the bottom after a few minutes, or after 1, 2, 3 or 4 days. They then measured and compared a number of behaviours of released urchins and of wild urchins – all of this using the exquisite underwater research skills they honed during the course. What did they find? The sea urchins that had been handled righted themselves more slowly than wild urchins up to 2 days after release. They also crawled away from a potential sea star predator more slowly. The duration of captivity did not affect the behaviours examined, suggesting that handling, rather than captivity, impaired behaviours. We still don’t know whether there are fitness consequences to these short-term behavioural changes.
The study shed much needed light on the effects of handling- and captivity-induced stress on wild-caught invertebrates. The new findings could inform translocation practices aimed at bolstering populations of ecologically similar but depleted invertebrate species.

The Scientific Diving (now called Subtidal Ecology) course offers a unique opportunity for students to increase their ecological knowledge of what goes on beyond the intertidal, gain unusual skills (like working underwater!), and a practical qualification (the Canadian Association of Underwater Science (CAUS) Level 1 Scientific Diver status). For the class of 2016, led by instructors Isabelle Côté and Siobhan Gray and TA Fiona Francis, there was an added bonus of a scientific paper to kick-start their scientific career!