Growth and production of Ophiocten gracilis (Ophiuroidea: Echinodermata) on the Scottish continental slope

John D Gage

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Growth and production of the bathyal ophiurid brittle star Ophiocten gracilis was studied from skeletal growth bands and disc size frequencies of specimens collected in sled and trawl samples taken on the continental slope off Scotland. Growth bands showed up in SEM examination as ring-like zones in surface relief and texture of the stereom microstructure of the intervertebral muscle insertions on the arm ossicles. Seasonal variability in somatic growth, presumed to underlie this growth pattern, may reflect reproduction and/or a possible non-feeding period during gonad maturation. Disc size-at-age was back-calculated from size-at-age interpreted from growth-band series on the vertebral ossicles from arms of O. gracilis. Pooled growth-band frequency data and normal-distribution mixtures based on size-at-age data were used to test for overgrowth of early growth bands on the ossicles from larger individuals. Von Bertalanffy and Gompertz growth models were fitted to the finalised back-calculated disc size-at-age data. These were used along with the modal structure of the observed disc size frequencies to develop a demographic model based on normal-distribution mixtures constrained by the growth model. These and other defining parameters were fitted by non-linear regression to size structure observed in a sample of the breeding population from 997 m depth on the Hebrides Terrace. Recruitment was estimated according to available data from sediment-trap time series. A ratio of somatic production/biomass, P-S/B, in the range of 0.43-0.54 was estimated using a fitted size/mass relationship and the increment summation method (ISM) applied to the fitted growth models. A narrower, but otherwise similar, range in estimated P-S/B ratios (0.48-0.49) was obtained in a parallel approach using the mass-specific growth rate method (MSGRM), whereby the same size/mass relationship was applied to the observed frequencies and growth parameters fitted to growth banding. Using previously obtained data on population density, a standing crop of 4.8 g wet weight (similar to0.58 mg AFDW) m(-2) would provide annual wet weight production in the range of 1.9-2.4 g (similar to0.23-0.29 mg AFDW) m(-2) in the population between ca. 700-1000 m depth. Somewhat greater production estimates (P-S/B=0.73-0.98) were obtained from MSGRM by pooling the sample with size frequencies from other large samples in which postlarval sizes were more numerous, but larger sizes less numerous. Similarly high production was estimated by MSGRM from a box corer sample from the Wyville-Thomson Ridge. Explanations for variability in size structure are discussed, but even the lower estimates are comparable to boreal shallow-water brittle stars. The high rate of growth and production by accepted deep-sea standards may be related to a capability for interface feeding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-97
Number of pages13
Issue numberVol 143, Iss 1
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • AGE
  • Marine & Freshwater Biology


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