Larval connectivity and water quality explain spatial distribution of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks across the Great Barrier Reef

Matthews, S. A., Mellin, C., and Pratchett, Morgan S. (2020) Larval connectivity and water quality explain spatial distribution of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks across the Great Barrier Reef. In: Riegl, Bernhard M., (ed.) Population Dynamics of the Reef Crisis. Advances in Marine Biology, 87 (1). Elsevier, Amsterdam, NDL, pp. 223-258.

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Outbreaks of the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS; Acanthasts cf. solaris) occur in cyclical waves along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), contributing significantly to the decline in hard coral cover over the past 30 years. One main difficulty faced by scientists and managers alike, is understanding the relative importance of contributing factors to COTS outbreaks such as increased nutrients and water quality, larval connectivity, fishing pressure, and abiotic conditions. We analysed COTS abundances from the most recent outbreak (2010–2018) using both boosted regression trees and generalised additive models to identify key predictors of COTS outbreaks. We used this approach to predict the suitability of each reef on the GBR for COTS outbreaks at three different levels: (1) reefs with COTS present intermittently (Presence); (2) reefs with COTS widespread and present in most samples and (Prevalence) (3) reefs experiencing outbreak levels of COTS (Outbreak). We also compared the utility of two auto-covariates accounting for spatial autocorrelation among observations, built using weighted inverse distance and weighted larval connectivity to reefs supporting COTS populations, respectively. Boosted regression trees (BRT) and generalised additive mixed models (GAMM) were combined in an ensemble model to reduce the effect of model uncertainty on predictions of COTS presence, prevalence and outbreaks. Our results from best performing models indicate that temperature (Degree Heating Week exposure: relative importance = 13.1%) and flood plume exposure (13.0%) are the best predictors of COTS presence, variability in chlorophyll concentration (12.6%) and flood plume exposure (8.2%) best predicted COTS prevalence and larval connectivity potential (22.7%) and minimum sea surface temperature (8.0%) are the best predictors of COTS outbreaks. Whether the reef was open or closed to fishing, however, had no significant effect on either COTS presence, prevalence or outbreaks in BRT results (< 0.5%). We identified major hotspots of COTS activity primarily on the mid shelf central GBR and on the southern Swains reefs. This study provides the first empirical comparison of the major hypotheses of COTS outbreaks and the first validated predictions of COTS outbreak potential at the GBR scale incorporating connectivity, nutrients, biophysical and spatial variables, providing a useful aid to management of this pest species on the GBR.

Item ID: 67365
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 9780128215296
ISSN: 2162-5875
Keywords: Boosted regression trees, Coral reefs, Crown-of-thorns starfish, Disturbance, Outbreaks, Pest management, Population dynamics, Species distribution modelling
Copyright Information: © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2021 04:54
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1901 Adaptation to climate change > 190102 Ecosystem adaptation to climate change @ 100%
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