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Marine Biology

, Volume 162, Issue 8, pp 1695–1704 | Cite as

Localized outbreaks of Acanthaster planci at an isolated and unpopulated reef atoll in the Chagos Archipelago

  • R. C. Roche
  • M. S. Pratchett
  • P. Carr
  • J. R. Turner
  • D. Wagner
  • C. Head
  • C. R. C. Sheppard
Short note

Abstract

Outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), Acanthaster planci, have occurred at many locations throughout the Indo-Pacific and are a major contributor to widespread coral loss and reef degradation. The causes of outbreaks remain controversial, but are commonly attributed to anthropogenically elevated nutrients and/or over-fishing. If so, it seems unlikely that outbreaks would occur in reef systems that are largely isolated from anthropogenic disturbances. However, high densities of COTS were recently observed on reefs in the Chagos Archipelago, a remote group of atolls and banks within the central Indian Ocean, which experience very limited anthropogenic influence. Aggregations of COTS were first noticed at Eagle Island in 2012, which, although unquantified, appeared to be at outbreak levels, and very high densities (1624 km−2) were subsequently recorded at Danger Island in 2013. While these islands are uninhabited by humans, it is possible that nutrient inputs result from upwelling zones around the Archipelago, or high densities of breeding seabirds. Among islands within the Great Chagos Bank, densities of the red-footed booby Sula sula ranged from 8 to 7888 individuals km−2, with associated guano input ranging from 96 to 25,381 kg island−1 year−1. However, Danger and Eagle Islands where high COTS densities were recorded, had both high and low levels of guano production, respectively, which suggests that outbreaks may not be directly linked to guano nutrient enrichment. Other factors which might be responsible for intermittent COTS outbreaks should be considered in isolated reef systems such as the Chagos Archipelago.

Keywords

Coral Reef Great Barrier Reef Atoll Coral Cover Coral Loss 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank the captain and crew of the M/V Pacific Marlin for all the work and knowledge that they contributed to this work. We thank the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) administration for assistance and permission to carry out research within the Chagos Archipelago. The authors would like to thank Prof John Pearse and additional anonymous reviewers for their contributions to the manuscript. This research was funded by a UK government Darwin Initiative Grant.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. C. Roche
    • 1
  • M. S. Pratchett
    • 2
  • P. Carr
    • 3
  • J. R. Turner
    • 1
  • D. Wagner
    • 4
  • C. Head
    • 5
    • 6
  • C. R. C. Sheppard
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Ocean ScienceBangor UniversityMenai BridgeUK
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK
  4. 4.NOAA Papahnaumokuākea Marine National MonumentHonoluluUSA
  5. 5.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  6. 6.Zoological Society of LondonConservation ProgrammesLondonUK

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