, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 207-219,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 27 Dec 2013

The thermal tolerance of crown-of-thorns (Acanthaster planci) embryos and bipinnaria larvae: implications for spatial and temporal variation in adult populations


To understand the role of sea temperature on the population biology of the crown-of-thorns sea star Acanthaster planci, the thermal window for embryonic and larval development was investigated. In two experiments, the response of embryos and larvae across 12 temperatures from 19.4 to 36.5 °C was quantified as the percentage of individuals reaching cleavage stage embryos, blastula, gastrula, early-bipinnaria, late-bipinnaria larvae or abnormal. Measurements were made at 7 times up to 72 h post-fertilisation, with the morphometrics of larvae measured in the 72-h sample. Acanthaster planci developed at temperatures between 19.4 and 33.2 °C, with a thermal window for development to the late-bipinnaria stage between 25.6 and 31.6 °C. Development rate, normal development and larval size were optimal at 28.7 °C, with development rates remaining relatively constant up to 31.6 °C. Rates of abnormality increased steadily (early embryonic stages) above 28.7 °C and was 100 % at temperatures approaching 33 °C. These experiments provide a more detailed insight into the response of A. planci developmental stages to temperature. The present day distribution of the species in eastern Australia overlap with the optimal thermal window for development to the late-bipinnaria stage (≈25–32 °C), implying a role of temperature in controlling population distributions and abundances. Despite this, short- or long-term temperature increases may not be a major modulator of the crown-of-thorns recruitment success, population dynamics and distribution in the future as no significant change in development rates, larval survival and growth occurred within this thermal window. Therefore, moderate (1–2 °C) increases in sea temperatures caused by El Niño or near-future ocean warming may not drive an increase in developmental and settlement success. Indeed, without any acclimation to warmer temperatures expected under near-future warming (+2 to 4 °C), climate change could ultimately reduce larval survival due to elevated mortality above the optimal development temperature.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Anastazia Banaszak