Invest in arms: behavioural and energetic implications of multiple autotomy in starfish (Asterias rubens)
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The autotomy of body parts as a means of escaping predation or renewing damaged tissues has evolved in a number of animal groups. Starfishes are unique in that they can autotomise >75% of their body mass and continue to survive. Presumably, multiple autotomy of tissue has energetic costs in terms of potential fitness and may affect the allocation of energy reserves accordingly. We investigated arm autotomy, predatory capabilities and subsequent regeneration in common starfish, Asterias rubens, that were induced to lose one, two or three arms. Initially, both regeneration of autotomised arms and the rate of growth of intact arms was slowest in animals that had lost the most arms (i.e. three arms missing vs two arms missing vs one arm missing). However, 8 months later, the growth of intact arms since the start of the experiment was not significantly different between groups of starfish that had autotomised different numbers of arms. However, the average dry weight per regnerating arm was significantly higher in starfish that had autotomised the most arms. Arm loss decreased the ability of starfish to open mussels and those that had autotomised two arms were significantly less likely to feed successfully on a mussel in a 24-h period than intact starfish. Our data suggest that proportionally more energy is allocated to arm regeneration in starfish that have suffered multiple arm loss and this may compensate a potential decrease in fitness that results from decreased feeding capability.
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