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Trevor Keyler, Kristina Timmerman


Research was conducted on the habitat preference of brittle stars (Ophiodermatidae), located on the coast of the island San Salvador in the Bahamas. These marine organisms feed during the night and hide within dark areas of the ocean such as rocks and conch shells during the day. We hypothesized that brittle stars had no preference for the structure they chose to hide in during the daytime. Based on this hypothesis, we predicted that brittle stars would utilize all structural areas equally. Two species of brittle stars (Ophionereis reticulata and Ophiolepis apressa) were our study animals. Six reticulated brittle stars and three banded brittle stars were collected, along with seven structures: a crab shell, crab claw, mollusk shell, rock structure, broken plastic cup, conch shell, and coral. Every hour for six consecutive hours brittle stars individual locations were marked. Brittle stars were then removed and placed in the center of the wet tank to reset their location. Data analysis suggested that stars are preferentially selecting hiding structures (χ2=39.50, df = 8, p<0.001). Brittle stars appear to make choices about their hiding structures and those include the conch shell, sides/corners of the tank, and the broken cup. Understanding why brittle stars choose certain structures will aid in the protection of their preferred structures and in turn aid in the protection of brittle stars.