Size-related aspects of arm damage, tissue mechanics, and autotomy in the starfish Asterias rubens
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Arm damage is a widely reported but superficially investigated aspect of the biology of the starfish Asterias rubens L. In the present study, the incidence of arm damage was surveyed in populations of A. rubens at two sites in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland, and three sites in Gullmarsfjorden, Sweden. The mean (±SD) incidence across all sites of individuals with basal arm damage (resulting from detachment at the basal autotomy plane) was 19.69 ± 8.86%, the incidence of those with distal arm damage (resulting from amputation at more distal levels) was 7.74 ± 10.01%. The mean incidence of arms with basal damage was 5.28 ± 4.12%, of those with distal damage 1.83 ± 2.45%. There was a significant negative correlation between size and the incidence of basal damage at all but one site, but no significant correlation between size and distal damage at any site. Mechanical tests on specimens of the aboral body wall from the basal region of the arm (which included the autotomy plane) and from a more distal region revealed that with increasing body size there was a significant increase in yield stress, ultimate stress and Young's modulus (stiffness) but no significant change in yield strain and ultimate strain. There was no significant difference between the relationships for basal and distal specimens. It is hypothesised that in larger individuals increased mechanical toughness replaces autotomy as an effective antipredator strategy. Using two methods to induce autotomy, a significant positive correlation between size and the delay between the onset of stimulation and arm detachment was found; this may represent a size-related decline in the efficiency of the autotomy mechanism through the relaxation of selection pressure. Since size is an unreliable indicator of age in A. rubens, the trends identified herein can be interpreted only tentatively as age-associated phenomena.
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