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The hidden army: coralivorous Crown of Thorns seastars can spend years as herbivorous juveniles

Citation

Deaker, Dione et al. (2020), The hidden army: coralivorous Crown of Thorns seastars can spend years as herbivorous juveniles, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.1vhhmgqpp

Abstract

Crown of Thorns seastar (COTS) outbreaks are a major threat to coral reefs. Although the herbivorous juveniles and their switch to corallivory are key to seeding outbreaks, they remain a black box in our understanding of COTS. We investigated the impact of a delay in diet transition due to coral scarcity in cohorts reared on coralline algae for 10 months and 6.5 yrs before being offered coral. Both cohorts achieved an asymptotic size (16–18 mm diameter) on algae and had similar exponential growth on coral. After 6.5 yrs of herbivory, COTS were competent coral predators. This trophic and growth plasticity results in a marked age-size disconnect adding unappreciated complexity to COTS boom-bust dynamics. The potential that herbivorous juveniles accumulate in the reef infrastructure to seed outbreaks when favourable conditions arise has implications for management of COTS populations.