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Diversity 2016, 8(4), 27; doi:10.3390/d8040027

Benthic Predators Influence Microhabitat Preferences and Settlement Success of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris)

1
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia
2
National Marine Science Centre, Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Sven Uthicke and Michael Wink
Received: 28 October 2016 / Revised: 4 December 2016 / Accepted: 6 December 2016 / Published: 9 December 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biology, Ecology and Management of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish)
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Abstract

Like most coral reef organisms, crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.) are expected to be highly vulnerable to predation as they transition from a planktonic larval phase to settling among reef habitats. Accordingly, crown-of-thorns starfish might be expected to exhibit behavioural adaptations which moderate exposure to predation at this critical stage in their life history. Using pairwise choice experiments and settlement assays, we explored the ability of competent larvae of Acanthaster cf. solaris to first detect and then actively avoid benthic predators during settlement. Pairwise choice experiments revealed that late stage brachiolaria larvae are able to detect predators in the substrate and where possible, will preferentially settle in microhabitats without predators. Settlement assays (without choices) revealed that larvae do not necessarily delay settlement in the presence of predators, but high levels of predation on settling larvae by benthic predators significantly reduce the number of larvae that settle successfully. Taken together, these results show that crown-of-thorns starfish are highly vulnerable to benthic predators during settlement, and that variation in the abundance of benthic predators may exert a significant influence on patterns of settlement for crown-of-thorns starfish. View Full-Text
Keywords: behaviour; coral reefs; predation; resilience behaviour; coral reefs; predation; resilience
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Cowan, Z.-L.; Dworjanyn, S.A.; Caballes, C.F.; Pratchett, M. Benthic Predators Influence Microhabitat Preferences and Settlement Success of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris). Diversity 2016, 8, 27.

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