Larval survivorship and settlement of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) at varying algal cell densities

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Pratchett, MS, Dworjanyn, S, Mos, B, Caballes, CF, Thompson, CA & Blowes, S 2017, 'Larval survivorship and settlement of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) at varying algal cell densities', Diversity, vol. 9, no. 1.

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The dispersal potential of crown-of-thorns starfish (CoTS) larvae is important in understanding both the initiation and spread of population outbreaks, and is fundamentally dependent upon how long larvae can persist while still retaining the capacity to settle. This study quantified variation in larval survivorship and settlement rates for CoTS maintained at three different densities of a single-celled flagellate phytoplankton, Proteomonas sulcata (1 × 103 , 1 × 104 , and 1 × 105 cells/mL). Based on the larval starvation hypothesis, we expected that low to moderate levels of phytoplankton prey would significantly constrain both survival and settlement. CoTS larvae were successfully maintained for up to 50 days post-fertilization, but larval survival differed significantly between treatments. Survival was greatest at intermediate food levels (1 × 104 cells/mL), and lowest at high (1 × 105 cells/mL) food levels. Rates of settlement were also highest at intermediate food levels and peaked at 22 days post-fertilization. Peak settlement was delayed at low food levels, probably reflective of delayed development, but there was no evidence of accelerated development at high chlorophyll concentrations. CoTS larvae were recorded to settle 17–43 days post-fertilization, but under optimum conditions with intermediate algal cell densities, peak settlement occurred at 22 days post-fertilization. Natural fluctuations in nutrient concentrations and food availability may affect the number of CoTS that effectively settle, but seem unlikely to influence dispersal dynamics.

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