Limits to understanding and managing outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.)

Pratchett, Morgan S., Caballes, Ciemon F., Rivera-Posada, Jairo A., and Sweatman, Hugh P.A. (2014) Limits to understanding and managing outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.). Oceanography and Marine Biology, 52. pp. 133-200.

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Outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.) remain a major cause of coral mortality in the Indo-Pacific, contributing to widespread and accelerating degradation of coral reef environments. This review examines the evidence for and against the principal hypotheses put forward to explain spatial and temporal patterns of outbreaks and also explores whether it is possible or feasible to intervene and limit ongoing degradation caused by crown-of-thorns starfish. The inherent biological characteristics of Acanthaster spp., such as exceptional fecundity, early maturation, and extreme flexibility in resource use, clearly contribute to extreme fluctuations in their abundance. Of the many hypotheses put forward to explain the occurrence of outbreaks, none has universal or unequivocal support. Clearly, however, the high incidence and severity of outbreaks at many reef locations cannot be sustained because anthropogenic changes to marine environments either have caused fundamental shifts in the population dynamics of Acanthaster spp. or have undermined the capacity of reef ecosystems to withstand these periodic disturbances. Reducing the incidence or severity of outbreaks of Acanthaster spp. is critical for reversing widespread and protracted declines in coral cover throughout the Indo-Pacific. Improved efficiency of direct controls provides opportunities to limit the progression and spread of outbreaks if detected early, but effective management of Acanthaster spp. really depends on definitive knowledge and appropriate action to address the ultimate causes of outbreaks. There are considerable, but not insurmountable, challenges to addressing important and persistent knowledge gaps relating to the biology of Acanthaster spp. This research is fundamental to ensure the persistence of coral reef ecosystems, especially given other emerging threats associated with global climate change.

Item ID: 34003
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 0078-3218
Keywords: crown-of-thorns, disturbances, coral reefs, Great Barrier Reef
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A version of this publication was included as Chapter 2 of the following PhD thesis: Caballes, Ciemon Frank (2017) Environmental influences on the reproductive biology and early life history of the crown-of-thorns starfish. PhD thesis, James Cook University, which is available Open Access in ResearchOnline@JCU. Please see the Related URLs for access.

Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2014 03:50
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 50%
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