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MEPS
Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 609:271-276 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12843

NOTE
Larval cloning in the crown-of-thorns sea star, a keystone coral predator

Jonathan D. Allen1,*, Emily L. Richardson1, Dione Deaker2, Antonio Agüera3, Maria Byrne2,4

1Department of Biology, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23187, USA
2School of Medical Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
3Laboratoire de Biologie Marine CP160/15, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
4School of Life and Environmental and Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), Acanthaster cf. solaris, is an iconic keystone predator whose population outbreaks have devastating consequences for Indo-Pacific coral reefs. We tested the effects of algal food supply and larval density on the frequency of larval cloning by culturing the early bipinnaria larvae of COTS under variable conditions. Here we show that larval COTS are able to clone themselves in both low and high food conditions, and that the frequency of larval cloning increases with levels of food, but is unaffected by larval density. Across all density treatments (0.3, 1.0 and 3.0 larvae ml-1), the per-capita rate of cloning increased from 4.3% in low, oligotrophic conditions (0.17 µg chl a l-1) to 7.9% in high food conditions (1.7 µg chl a l-1). Larval cloning has the potential to increase both COTS larval supply and the dispersal distance of planktonic larval stages, both of which are critical factors in predicting the timing and location of outbreaks of this species. In addition, the relationship between algal food supply and larval cloning frequency lends support to bottom-up hypotheses (e.g. nutrient enrichment) as predictors of COTS outbreaks. However, cloning was observed even under the oligotrophic conditions characteristic of coral reefs.


KEY WORDS: Cloning · Coral · Crown-of-thorns starfish · Keystone species


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Cite this article as: Allen JD, Richardson EL, Deaker D, Agüera A, Byrne M (2019) Larval cloning in the crown-of-thorns sea star, a keystone coral predator. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 609:271-276. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12843

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