Coral Reefs

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 453–462 | Cite as

Dynamics of an outbreak population of Acanthaster planci at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef (1995–1999)

  • Morgan S. Pratchett


Despite their significant influence on coral reef ecosystems, causes of population outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci L.) are still poorly understood. Essentially, outbreaks of A. planci could arise from either (1) a single mass recruitment event or (2) the progressive accumulation of starfish from multiple cohorts. This study explored fine-scale variation in the size, distribution, and abundance of A. planci, during an outbreak at Lizard Island in the northern Great Barrier Reef, to assess the mechanism by which the outbreak occurred. Densities of A. planci around Lizard Island increased very gradually from October 1994 until December 1996, then remained at around 1.0 starfish per 200 m2 until June 1998. The population of A. planci comprised individuals ranging in size from 11-cm to 62-cm diameter, representing individuals from multiple (at least four) different cohorts. These data suggest that the outbreak of A. planci at Lizard Island resulted from a prolonged build-up in starfish numbers through multiple successive recruitment events. This study shows that outbreaks of A. planci may arise independently of any sudden or substantial increase in rates of recruitment, such that any factor(s) responsible for the initial onset of outbreaks are likely to be very subtle and difficult to detect.


Corallivores Crown-of-thorns starfish Disturbance Long-term monitoring Population outbreaks 



Funding for this project was provided by the Australian Coral Reef Society, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and James Cook University. Stuart Watson and Deborah Pratchett provided valuable assistance in all aspects of this study. Comments provided by Terry Hughes, Geoff Jones, Hugh Sweatman, Peter Glynn, Charles Birkeland and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript. This is contribution no. 152 from the CCRB, James Cook University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, School of Marine Biology and AquacultureJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia

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