Climate change as an unexpected co-factor promoting coral eating seastar (Acanthaster planci) outbreaks
journal contributionposted on 2015-01-01, 00:00 authored by S Uthicke, M Logan, M Liddy, David FrancisDavid Francis, N Hardy, M Lamare
Coral reefs face a crisis due to local and global anthropogenic stressors. A large proportion of the ~50% coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef has been attributed to outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns-seastar (COTS). A widely assumed cause of primary COTS outbreaks is increased larval survivorship due to higher food availability, linked with anthropogenic runoff . Our experiment using a range of algal food concentrations at three temperatures representing present day average and predicted future increases, demonstrated a strong influence of food concentration on development is modulated by temperature. A 2°C increase in temperature led to a 4.2–4.9 times (at Day 10) or 1.2–1.8 times (Day 17) increase in late development larvae. A model indicated that food was the main driver, but that temperature was an important modulator of development. For instance, at 5000 cells ml−1 food, a 2°C increase may shorten developmental time by 30% and may increase the probability of survival by 240%. The main contribution of temperature is to ‘push’ well-fed larvae faster to settlement. We conclude that warmer sea temperature is an important co-factor promoting COTS outbreaks.