Interspecific variation in potential importance of planktivorous damselfishes as predators of Acanthaster sp. eggs
Cowan, Z-L and Ling, SD and Dworjanyn, SA and Caballes, CF and Pratchett, MS, Interspecific variation in potential importance of planktivorous damselfishes as predators of Acanthaster sp. eggs, Coral Reefs, 36, (2) pp. 653-661. ISSN 0722-4028 (2017) [Refereed Article]
Coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster sp.) often exhibit dramatic population outbreaks, suggesting that their local abundance may be relatively unchecked by predators. This may be due to high concentrations of anti-predator chemicals (saponins and plancitoxins), but the effectiveness of chemical deterrents in protecting Acanthaster sp., especially spawned eggs, from predation remains controversial. We show that planktivorous damselfishes will readily consume food pellets with low proportions (≤80%) of eggs of crown-of-thorns starfish. However, all fishes exhibited increasing rejection of food pellets with higher proportions of starfish eggs, suggesting that chemicals in eggs of crown-of-thorns starfish do deter potential predators. Interestingly, palatability thresholds varied greatly among the nine species of planktivorous fish tested. Most notably, Amblyglyphidodon curacao consumed food pellets comprising 100% starfish eggs 1.5 times more than any other fish species, and appeared largely insensitive to increases in the concentration of starfish eggs. After standardising for size, smaller fish species consumed a disproportionate amount of pellets comprising high proportions of starfish eggs, indicating that abundant small-bodied fishes could be particularly important in regulating larval abundance and settlement success of crown-of-thorns starfish. Collectively, this study shows that reef fishes vary in their tolerance to anti-predator chemicals in crown-of-thorns starfish and may represent important predators on early life-history stages.
crown-of-thorns starfish, predation, pest control, coral reefs, outbreak, reef fishes