BIOTIC Species Information for Brissopsis lyrifera
Researched byLizzie Tyler Data supplied byUniversity of Sheffield
Refereed byThis information is not refereed.
Scientific nameBrissopsis lyrifera Common nameHeart urchin
MCS CodeZB228 Recent SynonymsNone

PhylumEchinodermata Subphylum
Superclass ClassEchinoidea
Subclass OrderSpatangoida
Suborder FamilyBrissidae
GenusBrissopsis Specieslyrifera

Additional Information
Taxonomy References Hayward et al., 1996, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Howson & Picton, 1997, Picton, 1993, Mortensen, 1927,
General Biology
Growth formGlobose
Feeding methodSurface deposit feeder
Sub-surface deposit feeder
Environmental positionInfaunal
Typical food typesOrganic detritus, foraminifers and other small organisms within sediment. HabitFree living
Bioturbator FlexibilityNone (< 10 degrees)
FragilityFragile SizeSmall-medium(3-10cm)
HeightInsufficient information Growth Rate10-15 mm/year
Adult dispersal potential100-1000m DependencyIndependent
General Biology Additional InformationSize
Ferrand et al. (1988), studied Brissopsis lyrifera in the Gulf of Lions, Mediterranean Sea and found the 'test' length to be unrelated to the sex of the animal.

Brissopsis lyrifera are capable of both deposit feeding and filter feeding although ventilation rates are not high enough to sustain the animal on filter feeding alone (Hollertz, 2002). Brissopsis lyrifera is reported to feed selectively on carbon- and nitrogen-rich particles (Hollertz, 2002). Mucus trapping of fine-organic rich particles and selective collection by the sticky tube feet around the mouth are thought to be the mechanisms underlying this selectivity (Hollertz, 2002). Characteristically, Brissopsis lyrifera is a sub-surface deposit feeder, but Hollertz (1998) observed Brissopsis lyrifera to emerge from the sediment and feed close to the surface in response to the addition of organic matter. When buried in the sediment, Brissopsis lyrifera maintain contact with the surface through a funnel. The funnel is kept clear of sediment by tube feet that also line the funnel with mucus (Hollertz, 2002).
In the spatangoids, to which Brissopsis lyrifera belongs, the tube foot pattern typical of the urchins is drastically altered, owing to its highly developed burrowing habit. In addition, the suckered tube-feet are no longer required and they are functionally replaced (in appropriate positions) by burrow-building, sensory or feeding tube-feet. Feeding is achieved by a combination of ciliary action and the action of these sticky, feeding tube-feet. The feeding tube-feet pass material from the substratum into the mouth where organic matter adhering to it are digested and the particular matter voided via the anus (Nichols, 1969).

Population densities
Brissopsis lyrifera is a gregarious species. Tunberg (1991), found densities of Brissopsis lyrifera to be up to 30 individuals per m² at various locations along the Swedish coast. However, in the North Sea densities of up to 60 individuals per m² have been reported (Ursin, 1960).

Mobility and burrowing
Despite being a conspicuous and large animal, very little is known about the natural burrowing behaviour of Brissopsis lyrifera, e.g. how much time it spends on the surface and how fast it moves. It is known to burrow about 20 mm below the surface of the substratum and, due to the fact that it moves with a rocking motion through the sediment, is capable of reworking relatively large volumes of sediment (Hollertz & Duchêne, 2001). In laboratory conditions, Hollertz (1998) calculated the locomotion rate of Brissopsis lyrifera to be 11 mm/h, and, using a formula given by Schinner (1993), estimated the turnover rate of sediment by Brissopsis lyrifera to be 8.0 cm² per hour. Further research by Hollertz & Duchêne, (2001) found that Brissopsis lyrifera reworked between 14-22 ml of sediment per hour depending on temperature. Temperature was found to significantly affect burrowing activity that was almost doubled when temperature was raised from 7 to 14 °C. The burrowing activity has a pronounced effect on the surrounding sediment by increases the oxygen concentration in the sediment and thus stimulating the growth of microorganisms and decomposition of organic material (Hollertz & Duchêne, 2001).
Biology References Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Widdicombe et al., 2000, Ferrand et al., 1988, Buchanan, 1967, Nichols, 1969, Mortensen, 1927, Tunberg, 1991, Ursin, 1960, Young, 1954, Hollertz, 1998, Schinner, 1993, Hollertz & Duchêne, 2001, Hollertz, 2002, Hayward & Ryland, 1990, Mortensen, 1927,
Distribution and Habitat
Distribution in Britain & IrelandRecorded off the west, north and east coasts of the British Isles, but not off the south coast. Common in deep water.
Global distributionBrissopsis lyrifera may be found in offshore or inshore stable sediments from Norway and Iceland to South Africa and the Mediterranean. Also present on the east coast of North America but not Greenland.
Biogeographic rangeNot researched Depth range5 - 500 m
MigratoryNon-migratory / Resident   
Distribution Additional InformationBrissopsis lyrifera typically co-occurs with the brittle star, %Amphiura chiajei%, on muddy, soft bottom areas of the North Sea, the Skagerrak and the Kattegat (Hollertz et al., 1998).

Substratum preferencesMud
Muddy sand
Physiographic preferencesOffshore seabed
Open coast
Biological zoneLower Circalittoral
Circalittoral Offshore
Bathybenthic (Bathyal)
Wave exposureNot relevant
Tidal stream strength/Water flowWeak (<1 kn)
Very Weak (negligible)
SalinityVariable (18-40 psu)
Full (30-40 psu)
Habitat Preferences Additional Information
Distribution References Hayward et al., 1996, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Picton, 1993, Hollertz et al., 1998, Mortensen, 1927, Foster-Smith, 2000, Crothers, 1966, Bruce et al., 1963, Picton & Costello, 1998, JNCC, 1999, Hayward & Ryland, 1990, Mortensen, 1927,
Reproduction/Life History
Reproductive typeGonochoristic
Developmental mechanismPlanktotrophic
Reproductive SeasonSummer to Autumn Reproductive LocationWater column
Reproductive frequencySemelparous Regeneration potential No
Life span3-5 years Age at reproductive maturity3-5 years
Generation time3-5 years Fecundity1000000
Egg/propagule size Fertilization typeExternal
Larval/Juvenile dispersal potential>10km Larval settlement periodInsufficient information
Duration of larval stage   
Reproduction Preferences Additional InformationReproduction and generation time
Echinoids have separate sexes. Fertilization is external and the majority have a free swimming pelagic larva (Fish & Fish, 1996).
From observations made along the Northumbrian coast, Buchanan (1967), described Brissopsis lyrifera as a highly productive, short lived but fast growing species. The population he studied showed clear evidence of successful and consecutive annual recruitment. Specimens became sexually mature when 'test' length was >60 mm, they spawned in the summer towards the end of their 4th year and died shortly afterwards. No individuals were observed to survive to breed for a second time.
Larval settling time
Adults of Brissopsis lyrifera are burrowers, so the larval phase is the main dispersive mechanism of the urchin. Echinoderm larvae undergo a complicated and protracted metamorphosis. For instance, the larvae of other echinoderms, Echinocardium cordatum and Echinus esculentus remain in the plankton for 40 and 46-60 days respectively (Kashenko, 1994; MacBride, 1914). Thus the larvae of Brissopsis lyrifera probably remain in the plankton for a sufficient length of time to be swept away from the location of spawning to new areas, or to restock existing areas (Nichols, 1969).
Reproduction References Fish & Fish, 1996, Ferrand et al., 1988, Buchanan, 1967, Nichols, 1969, Brattström, 1946, Vasseur & Carlsen, 1949, Kashenko, 1994, MacBride, 1914, Eckert, 2003,
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