For broadcast spawning invertebrates such as the crown-of-thorns starfish, early life history stages (from spawning to settlement) may be exposed to a wide range of environmental conditions, and could have a major bearing on reproductive success and population replenishment. Arrested development in response to multiple environmental stressors at the earliest stages can be used to define lower and upper limits for normal development. Here, we compared sperm swimming speeds and proportion of motile sperm and rates of fertilization and early development under a range of environmental variables (temperature: 20–36 °C, salinity: 20–34 psu, and pH: 7.4–8.2) to identify environmental tipping points and thresholds for reproductive success. We also tested the effects of water-soluble compounds, derived from eggs, on sperm activity. Our results demonstrate that gametes, fertilization, and embryonic development are robust to a wide range of temperature, salinity, and pH levels that are outside the range found at the geographical limits of adult distribution and can tolerate environmental conditions that exceed expected anomalies as a result of climate change. Water-soluble compounds derived from eggs also enhanced sperm activity, particularly in environmental conditions where sperm motility was initially limited. These findings suggest that fertilization and embryonic development of crown-of-thorns starfish are tolerant to a wide range of environmental conditions, though environmental constraints on recruitment success may occur at later ontogenic stages.
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