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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 512:167-183 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10858

Model to manage and reduce crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks

Elisabetta B. Morello1,*, Éva E. Plagányi1, Russell C. Babcock1, Hugh Sweatman2, Richard Hillary3, André E. Punt3,4

1CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere, Ecosciences Precinct, 41 Boggo Rd, Dutton Park, QLD 4102, Australia
2Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3, Townsville MC, QLD 4810, Australia
3CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, TAS 7000, Australia
4School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Box 355020, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-5020, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) Acanthaster planci is one of the largest causes of coral cover loss on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Numerous trophic-mediated and anthropogenic-related hypotheses, singly or in combination, have been proposed to explain COTS outbreaks, but the evidence remains inconclusive. There is, however, an urgent need for effective control and mitigation strategies. We develop a model of intermediate complexity for ecosystem assessments to describe the trophic interactions between juvenile and adult COTS and 2 groups of coral (fast- and slow-growing corals). By fitting to available data, the impact of prey-switching behaviour by COTS and its effects on the system are quantified. Simulations are used to evaluate the effects of (1) predation by large fish on adult COTS, (2) predation by benthic invertebrates on juvenile COTS, and (3) manual removal of adult COTS. The results highlight the effectiveness of invertebrate predation at reducing juvenile COTS numbers and suggest that manual removal is unlikely to be an effective control method except on a small scale. Our model focuses on the importance of trophic interactions in COTS control and provides an initial platform for future work which foresees the estimation of the effects of key predators, no-take areas, anthropogenic nutrient enhancement, and reef connectivity in mediating the spatio-temporal heterogeneity of COTS outbreaks.


KEY WORDS: Acanthaster planci · COTS · Coral · Great Barrier Reef · Models of intermediate complexity · Predation · Trophodynamics


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Cite this article as: Morello EB, Plagányi ÉE, Babcock RC, Sweatman H, Hillary R, Punt AE (2014) Model to manage and reduce crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 512:167-183. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10858

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