Habitat associations of settlement-stage crown-of-thorns starfish on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Wilmes, Jennifer C., Shultz, Daniel J., Hoey, Andrew S., Messmer, Vanessa, and Pratchett, Morgan S. (2020) Habitat associations of settlement-stage crown-of-thorns starfish on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs, 39. pp. 1163-1174.

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Population irruptions of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.) contribute greatly to the degradation of coral reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific. Effective management of these population irruptions is limited, in part, by incomplete knowledge of their early life history. Importantly, there are very limited data on the distribution and abundance of newly settled crown-of-thorns starfish (0+ starfish, in their first year since settlement). Extensive sampling was conducted around the circumference of three distinct mid-shelf reefs (at 1–18 m depths) in the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR), during active population irruptions, in May–June 2017, to quantify the occurrence and densities of settlement-stage starfish (2–65 mm diameter) and relate patterns of abundance to distinct habitat features at the scale of individual reefs. Overall, 140 settlement-stage starfish were detected across 1242 quadrats (1 m2). Settlement-stage starfish were recorded from 31 out of 42 sites (73.8%) at mean densities of 0–0.77 starfish m-2. Both estimated densities and the likelihood of occurrence of settlement-stage starfish within quadrats increased overall with the proportion of coral rubble (and dead intact corals), were greatest at intermediate depths (8–14 m), but decreased with the proportion of live hard coral. At the scale of individual reefs, settlement-stage starfish occurred most frequently in south-western and northern fore reef habitats. Our results suggest that settlement and/or early post-settlement survival of crown-ofthorns starfish is greatest in relatively shallow waters of obliquely exposed fore reef habitats where there is high cover of coral rubble. The specific occurrence of these habitat types (within spur and groove systems and rubble slips) provides an opportunity to concentrate searches and increase effective sampling of settlement-stage starfish, though these habitats are relatively widespread and unlikely to constrain the population replenishment or population irruptions of crown-of-thorns starfish on the GBR.

Item ID: 63920
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: Acanthaster; coral reefs; population irruptions; settlement; recruitment
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Copyright Information: © Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020
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A version of this publication was included as Chapter 2 of the following PhD thesis: Wilmes, Jennifer Christina (2020) Spatial and temporal variation in the demography of early-stage juvenile Pacific crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) from Australia's Great Barrier Reef. PhD thesis, James Cook University, which is available Open Access in ResearchOnline@JCU. Please see the Related URLs for access.

Funders: Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation (LIRRF), Australian Research Council (ARC), National Environmental Science Programme (NESP), Ian Potter Foundation (IPF)
Projects and Grants: NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2020 02:56
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 70%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410401 Conservation and biodiversity @ 30%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9604 Control of Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species > 960402 Control of Animal Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species in Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 20%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 80%
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