, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 267-272,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 20 Nov 2013

The corallivorous flatworm Amakusaplana acroporae: an invasive species threat to coral reefs?

Abstract

Fatal infestations of land-based Acropora cultures with so-called Acropora-eating flatworms (AEFWs) are a global phenomenon. We evaluate the hypothesis that AEFWs represent a risk to coral reefs by studying the biology and the invasive potential of an AEFW strain from the UK. Molecular analyses identified this strain as Amakusaplana acroporae, a new species described from two US aquaria and one natural location in Australia. Our molecular data together with life history strategies described here suggest that this species accounts for most reported cases of AEFW infestations. We show that local parasitic activity impairs the light-acclimation capacity of the whole host colony. A. acroporae acquires excellent camouflage by harbouring photosynthetically competent, host-derived zooxanthellae and pigments of the green-fluorescent protein family. It shows a preference for Acropora valida but accepts a broad host range. Parasite survival in isolation (5–7 d) potentially allows for an invasion when introduced as non-native species in coral reefs.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Anastazia Banaszak