Coral Reefs

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 985–993 | Cite as

Outbreak densities of the coral predator Drupella in relation to in situ Acropora growth rates on Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

  • C. BesseyEmail author
  • R. C. Babcock
  • D. P. Thomson
  • M. D. E. Haywood


Outbreaks of coral predators are defined as increases (often rapid) in their abundance above threshold densities that can be sustained by local coral assemblages, which in turn depends on the abundance and turnover of coral prey. To investigate the outbreak densities of the corallivorous gastropod Drupella cornus, we conducted both in situ feeding and coral growth experiments at Mandu reef within the Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia. Over two 10-day periods, we tagged and photographed feeding scars on colonies of the tabulate coral Acropora spicifera that harboured Drupella feeding aggregations. We calculated a mean in situ Drupella consumption rate of 1.16 ± 1.1 cm2 coral area individual−1 d−1. We also determined coral growth rates by tagging and photographing 24 colonies of Acropora spicifera at time zero and then again 1 year later. We calculated a mean linear extension rate of 7.9 ± 3.7 cm yr−1 for actively growing Acropora spicifera, which we then used to estimate A. spicifera growth rates over a range of coral cover values. This combination allowed us to determine the maximum number of Drupella that could be sustained across a range of coral cover. Our data suggest that the outbreak density of Drupella at the average level of coral cover for back reef sites at Mandu reef (17.6 ± 13.7%) is approximately 0.95 individuals m−2 reef area. At the maximum coral cover observed at Mandu reef (60%), the outbreak density of Drupella is estimated to be approximately 2.83 individuals m−2 reef area. Establishing Drupella outbreak densities assists managers in predicting possible outbreak abundances and in monitoring coral reef health.


Ningaloo Marine Park Western Australia Management Coral growth Consumption rate 



This work was funded by the Gorgon Barrow Island Net Conservation Benefits Fund, which was administered by the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife. The work was conducted under the following permits: Department of Parks and Wildlife Regulation 17 and 4; #01-000096-1, SF010543, SF010083, SF010082, and CE005047, CE004661, CE004685; and Department of Fisheries Exemption 2418. We thank Mark Wilson and Ben Kelly for their logistical support. We also thank John Keesing, three anonymous reviewers, the handling editor, and the editor, Morgan Pratchett, for providing valuable suggestions to the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oceans and AtmosphereCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research OrganizationCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Plant Biology and the Oceans InstituteUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.Oceans and Atmosphere, Queensland Biosciences PrecinctCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research OrganizationSt LuciaAustralia

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