Article

Marine Biology

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 175-185

First online:

Terrestrial runoff as a cause of outbreaks of Acanthaster planci (Echinodermata: Asteroidea)

  • C. BirkelandAffiliated withMarine Laboratory, UOG Station, University of Guam

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Abstract

Outbreaks of adult Acanthaster planci (Linnaeus) have appeared at irregular intervals, arriving 3 yr after heavy rains (>100 cm in 3 months) following droughts (<25 cm in 4 months) or 3 yr after rains exceeding intensities of 30 cm in 24 h. Outbreaks of A. planci follow typhoons that bring heavy rains, but do not follow “dry” typhoons of equivalent wind force. Outbreaks occur around the high islands in Micronesia and Polynesia, but not around the atolls at intermediate locations. Phytoplankton blooms appear off high islands at the beginning of the rainy season in bays with large watersheds and with sufficient residence time of the waters; these are the initial sites of A. planci abundance on Guam. The spawning seasons of A. planci occur at the beginning of the rainy season on both sides of the equator. I hypothesize that, on rare occasions, terrestrial runoff from heavy rains (following the dry season or a record drought) may provide enough nutrients to stimulate phytoplankton blooms of sufficient size to produce enough food for the larvae of A. planci. The increased survival of larvae results in an outbreak of adults 3 yr later. This hypothesis can be tested by predicting future outbreaks. An outbreak of A. planci on Saipan in the summer of 1981 was predicted on the basis of heavy rains in August 1978.