Contrasting size and fate of juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish linked to ontogenetic diet shifts

Wilmes, Jennifer C., Hoey, Andrew S., and Pratchett, Morgan S. (2020) Contrasting size and fate of juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish linked to ontogenetic diet shifts. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences, 287 (1931). 20201052.

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Population dynamics of organisms are shaped by the variation in phenotypic traits, often expressed even among individuals from the same cohort. For example, individual variation in the timing of ontogenetic shifts in diet and/or habitat greatly influences subsequent growth and survival of some organisms, with critical effects on population dynamics. Few studies of natural systems have, however, demonstrated that marked phenotypic variation in growth rates or body size among individuals within a modelled cohort is linked to dietary shifts and food availability. Population irruptions of the crown-of-thorns starfish are one of the foremost contributors to the global degradation of coral reefs, but causes of irruptions have been debated for decades. Here we demonstrate, based on extensive field sampling of juvenile starfish (n = 3532), that marked variation in body size among juvenile starfish is linked to an ontogenetic diet shift from coralline algae to coral. This transition in diet leads to exponential growth in juveniles and is essential for individuals to reach maturity. Because smaller individuals experience higher mortality and growth is stunted on an algal diet, the ontogenetic shift to corallivory enhances individual fitness and replenishment success. Our findings suggest that the availability of coral prey facilitates early ontogenetic diet shifts and may be fundamental in initiating population irruptions.

Item ID: 63921
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1471-2954
Keywords: individual fitness; ontogenetic diet shift; post-settlement growth; stable limit cycles
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Copyright Information: © 2020 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
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A version of this publication was included as Chapter 4 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 Research Station, Australian Government Research Training Program, National Environmental Science Programme (NESP), Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, Tropical Water Quality Hub
Projects and Grants: Ian Potter Foundation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Grant, NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub
Research Data:
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2020 02:37
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 60%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410401 Conservation and biodiversity @ 40%
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 @ 30%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 70%
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