MEPS 578:99-114 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12252

Aggregation, Allee effects and critical thresholds for the management of the crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci

Jacob G. D. Rogers1,*, Éva E. Pláganyi2, Russell C. Babcock2

1School of Mathematics and Physics, University of Queensland, Brisbane 4072, Queensland, Australia
2CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Brisbane 4072, Queensland, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We investigated how density and aggregation influence crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci reproductive success, using an empirically-tuned, individual-based simulation model that incorporates spatial and temporal biological stochasticity associated with spawning, and a kinetics model of fertilisation that explicitly incorporates the probability of polyspermy. Greater aggregation of individuals relieved Allee fertilisation dynamics, particularly at low densities, leading to higher rates of successful monospermic fertilisation and allowing populations to produce many more zygotes. This is likely more important to smaller, rather than larger, populations, due to limited and more variable reproductive success. In higher density populations a fertilisation optimum was observed at moderate levels of aggregation, above which monospermic fertilisation plateaued or even declined. This was likely due to 2 factors: the spatial dynamics of gamete plume dispersal and polyspermic fertilisation. Comparison of in situ natural spawning aggregation with model results indicates a cost-benefit equilibrium may exist between aggregation and reproductive success, and that relief from mechanisms limiting aggregation (for example, decreased relative predator abundance) may permit increased aggregation resulting in greater fertilisation and zygote production. We propose an Allee threshold of 3 starfish ha-1 (for starfish of a mean diameter 345 mm), below which reproductive capacity is greatly reduced regardless of aggregation level. These preliminary findings posit aggregation as a key factor in outbreak formation that may feasibly be incorporated into preventative management strategies to detect and define incipient outbreak conditions and to mitigate subsequent risk.


KEY WORDS: COTS · Spawning · Fertilisation · Polyspermy · Pest management · Marine invertebrate · Coral


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Cite this article as: Rogers JGD, Pláganyi ÉE, Babcock RC (2017) Aggregation, Allee effects and critical thresholds for the management of the crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 578:99-114. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12252

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