Crown-of-thorns starfish larvae are vulnerable to predation even in the presence of alternative prey

Cowan, Zara-Louise, Ling, Scott D., Caballes, Ciemon F., Dworjanyn, Symon A., and Pratchett, Morgan S. (2020) Crown-of-thorns starfish larvae are vulnerable to predation even in the presence of alternative prey. Coral Reefs, 39. pp. 293-303.

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Abstract

Many predators reported to feed on crown-of-thorns starfish (CoTS, Acanthaster spp.) are generalist and opportunistic feeders. However, research into predation on CoTS tends to examine these predator–prey interactions in isolation, and it remains unknown whether many potential predators will prey on CoTS when other, potentially more palatable, food sources are available. Assessing predatory responses to changes in prey availability is critical for gauging the capacity of predators to regulate prey populations. Here, we explored prey preferences and tested for prey switching across nine species of planktivorous damselfish offered varying densities of Pacific CoTS (Acanthaster cf. solaris) larvae versus larvae of a common and co-occurring starfish, Linckia laevigata. Results show that planktivorous damselfishes will consume crown-of-thorns starfish larvae, even in the presence of alternative prey. Feeding responses varied among the nine planktivorous predators with five damselfishes (Acanthochromis polyacanthus, Amblyglyphidodon curacao, Dascyllus reticulatus, Pomacentrus amboinensis and Pomacentrus moluccensis) exhibiting increased consumption of Acanthaster larvae with increasing density, despite the presence of alternative prey. Moreover, Abudefduf sexfasciatus and P. amboinensis exhibited preference for larvae of A. cf. solaris over larvae of L. laevigata. Despite these predation patterns, prey switching between starfish larvae was not observed. These results add to a growing body of evidence which suggests that predators of the early life stages of A. cf. solaris could be important in regulating settlement and recruitment patterns of this starfish, especially at low, nonoutbreak, densities.

Item ID: 63923
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: predation; functional response; prey switching; Acanthaster spp.; larvae; Damselfish
Copyright Information: © Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020
Funders: Lizard Island Research Station, Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: Ian Potter Foundation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Grant, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2020 02:08
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: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 80%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9604 Control of Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species > 960407 Control of Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species in Marine Environments @ 20%
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