Movement patterns of Pacific crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) linked to habitat structure and prey availability

Pratchett, Morgan S., Caballes, Ciemon F., Messmer, Vanessa, Fletcher, Cameron S., and Westcott, David A. (2020) Movement patterns of Pacific crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) linked to habitat structure and prey availability. Report. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Cairns, Qld, Australia.

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Patterns of movement and habitat use by adult crown-of-thorns starfishes (Acanthaster spp.) will have a major bearing on their distribution, reproductive capacity, and impacts on coral assemblages and reef ecosystems. The spatial and temporal scales over which crown-ofthorns starfish move will also have important implications for the scales at which they will be most effectively managed. Movement patterns of crown-of-thorns starfish have been studied previously, though mostly over small distances (metres) and limited timeframes (minutes to hours). This study reports on explicit studies that measured the movement rates and movement patterns of Pacific crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) at a range of temporal and spatial scales. In the first instance, we measured the instantaneous movement rates of starfish (n = 218) across different substrates; sand, coral rubble and consolidated carbonate pavement. This study was conducted in a large (5m diameter) tank, using video recordings that were then analysed to determine the mean and maximum rates of movement over successive 15-second intervals. To assess movement patterns of A. cf. solaris in the field, short-term tagging and movement studies were undertaken at Rib Reef, in the central GBR. All starfish (n = 357) recorded on semi-permanent transects were individually tagged using numbered pieces of flagging tape. The precise position of each starfish (where detected) was then recorded during successive surveys during day and night for up to 4 days. To further scale-up movement studies for crownof-thorns starfish we tagged 50 crown-of-thorns starfish using V7 (69KHZ) acoustic transmitters, at Lodestone Reef or Big Broadhurst Reef. The position of these starfish relative to acoustic receivers deployed 50-200m along the edge of the reef was recorded (at 3-minute intervals) for up to 8 months. Passive acoustic monitoring was intended to provide greater insights into longer-term (weeks to months) and larger-scale (kilometres) patterns of movement for crown-of-thorns starfish, but provided much less resolution regarding fine-scale movements of individual starfish. Instantaneous measures of movement capacity for A. cf. solaris (in aquaria) showed that these starfish are capable of moving at 20-35 cm per minute, and move fastest over sand. Despite their capacity for movement, field-based studies suggested that crown-of-thorns starfish actually move very little at scales of days to weeks, and even months. For starfish that were tagged with temporary visual markers, the minimum displacement distance recorded for the majority of starfish (88.0%) was <2m throughout the course of the study. Moreover, starfish that did move to feed (mostly at night) often returned to the same resting location between feeding bouts. Similarly, starfish tagged with acoustic transmitters for up to 6 months were only ever detected on adjacent receivers with large overlap in their ranges, suggesting that all starfish remained within 50-100m of where they were initially found and tagged for up to 6- months. The frequency and duration of passive detections varied greatly among individual starfish tagged with transmitters, with detections peaking in early hours of the morning. While this study shows that it is possible to effectively tag crown-of-thorns starfish, both over short and longer time-frames, there were considerable logistical challenges to documenting occasional large-scale, and presumably quite rapid, displacement of individual starfish. It is clear that crown-of-thorns starfish generally move very little and remain within localised areas (even returning to the same sheltering location between successive feeding bouts) of moderate to high coral cover. However, Acanthaster spp. are also capable of moving large distances when necessary, presumably when coral prey are locally depleted. It will be important to understand the nature and scale of both modes of movement to effectively manage population irruptions of crown-of-thorns starfish. Documenting the incidence and rates of movement during these infrequent events remains a priority for future research.

Item ID: 64019
Item Type: Report (Report)
ISBN: 978-1-925514-54-4
Copyright Information: © James Cook University, 2020
Funders: Tropical Water Quality Hub - National Environmental Science Program, Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation
Projects and Grants: Ian Potter Foundation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Grant
Research Data:
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2021 06:30
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 30%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 30%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 40%
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