Coral Reefs

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 603–612 | Cite as

Density-dependent prophylaxis in the coral-eating crown-of-thorns sea star, Acanthaster planci

  • S. C. MillsEmail author


The density-dependent prophylaxis hypothesis predicts that individuals at high density will invest more resources into immune defence than individuals at lower densities as a counter-measure to density-dependent pathogen transmission rates. Evidence has been found for this hypothesis in insects, but not in a non-arthropod taxon. To investigate this hypothesis in the coral-eating crown-of-thorns sea star, Acanthaster planci, density treatments were set up over 21 days, and pathogen infection was simulated with bacterial injection. Five immune responses: amoebocyte count, amoebocyte viability, lysosomal membrane integrity, respiratory burst and peroxidase activity were all upregulated at high density. These results demonstrate that immune investment shows phenotypic plasticity with adult population density in agreement with the density-dependent prophylaxis hypothesis. Here I show that the density-dependent prophylaxis hypothesis is neither dependent on larval density nor restricted to insects, and hence may potentially have important consequences on disease dynamics in any species with widely fluctuating population densities. This is the first demonstration of the density-dependent prophylaxis hypothesis outside arthropods.


Phenotypic plasticity Immunity Population explosion Acanthaster planci Life-history traits 



Thanks to CRIOBE for housing this study in their facilities, Ricardo Beldade and Gary Longo for collecting specimens, Gaël Simon and Benoit Espiau for laboratory assistance at CBETM and CRIOBE, respectively, and students and volunteers from Planete Urgence at CRIOBE for their help with the fieldwork. This research was supported by grants from ANR (ANR-06-JCJC-0012-01 and ANR-12-JCJC-Live and Let Die) and Partnership University Fund of the French American Cultural Exchange.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 55 kb)
338_2012_883_MOESM2_ESM.eps (280 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (EPS 279 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire d’Excellence “CORAIL”USR 3278 CRIOBE CNRS-EPHE, CBETM de l’Université de PerpignanPerpignan CedexFrance

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