A laboratory study of behavioral interactions of the Antarctic keystone sea star Odontaster validus with three sympatric predatory sea stars
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The circumpolar sea star Odontaster validus is ubiquitous in the nearshore marine benthos of Antarctica. Despite its ecological importance, little is known of its behavioral interactions with other common sympatric sea stars. To examine these interactions we employed time-lapse video analyses conducted in a large laboratory tank (1.8 m diameter circular tank, 1,629 L). In each experimental trial, 34 adult O. validus were placed in a tight circular grouping on one side of the tank, and one adult individual of one of three common sympatric species of predatory sea star (Labidiaster annulatus, Diplasterias brandti, or Perknaster aurorae) was placed on the opposite side of the tank. Digital images of sea star movements were then captured at one min intervals over a 24 h period and aspects of sea star movements subsequently analyzed. Each 24 h treatment was replicated three times, as was a control treatment consisting only of O. validus. O. validus had significantly elevated levels of activity in the presence of P. aurorae when compared with the other two sea stars (potential chemically mediated response), and displayed a distinct “flight response” (change in direction and twofold to sixfold increase of speed) upon tactile contact with this species. Moreover, an “alarm response” was detected when individuals of O. validus that encountered a fleeing conspecific also fled the vicinity. In contrast, our results indicated that O. validus displays virtually no chemical or tactile behavioral responses to the large multi-armed L. annulatus and only weak tactile responses to D. brandti.