Marine Biology

, Volume 161, Issue 11, pp 2521–2530 | Cite as

Spatial and temporal population dynamics of the crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, over a 24-year period along the central west coast of Okinawa Island, Japan

  • Masako NakamuraEmail author
  • Ken Okaji
  • Yoshimi Higa
  • Eiji Yamakawa
  • Satoshi Mitarai
Original Paper


Boom and bust dynamics are a prominent characteristic of the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) populations. Outbreaking starfish populations damage coral communities extensively and then often disappear quickly. In contrast, Onna village, on the central west coast of Okinawa Island, Japan, has been experiencing chronically high population densities of A. planci for decades. In this study, we examined spatial and temporal population dynamics of A. planci along the coast of Onna village, using removal data gathered over 24 years by a local fisheries cooperative. The results demonstrate that A. planci populations along the Onna coast often experienced high densities prior to 2003 and that recently, populations have again been increasing drastically. Size-frequency distributions suggest multiple, successive recruitment, as one of the driving factors maintaining A. planci populations in this location. Moreover, within the Onna area, the timing of outbreak peaks varied among different locations, showing a northward progression.


Great Barrier Reef Coral Coverage Coral Community Successive Recruitment Okinawa Prefecture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are very grateful to the members of Onna village fisheries cooperative. Our primary study with GPS drifters was supported by the Okinawa Prefectural Government. We thank OIST’s technical editor, Dr. Steven D. Aird for assistance with writing this manuscript.

Supplementary material

227_2014_2524_MOESM1_ESM.eps (1.9 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (EPS 1,985 kb)


  1. Allison GW (1994) Effects of temporary starvation on larvae of the sea star Asterina miniata. Mar Biol 118:255–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berumen ML, Pratchett MS (2006) Recovery without resilience: persistent disturbance and long-term shifts in the structure of fish and coral communities at Tiahura Reef, Moorea. Coral Reefs 25:647–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Birkeland C (1982) Terrestrial runoff as a cause of outbreaks of Acanthaster planci (Echinodermata, Asteroidea). Mar Biol 69:175–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birkeland C, Lucas JS (1990) Acanthaster planci: major management problem of coral reefs. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  5. Black KP (1993) The relative importance of local retention and inter-reef dispersal of neutrally buoyant material on coral reefs. Coral Reefs 12:43–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bos AR, Gumanao GS, Mueller B, Saceda-Cardoza MME (2013) Management of crown-of-thorns sea star (Acanthaster planci L.) outbreaks: removal success depends on reef topography and timing within the reproduction cycle. Ocean Coast Manag 71:116–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brodie J, Fabricius K, De’ath G, Okaji K (2005) Are increased nutrient inputs responsible for more outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish? An appraisal of the evidence. Mar Pollut Bull 51:266–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. De’ath G, Fabricius KE, Sweatman H, Puotinen M (2012) The 27-year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:17995–17999CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dight IJ, Bode L, James MK (1990a) Modeling the larval dispersal of Acanthaster planci. 1. Large-scale hydrodynamics, Cairns section, Great-Barrier-Reef Marine Park. Coral Reefs 9:115–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dight IJ, James MK, Bode L (1990b) Modeling the larval dispersal of Acanthaster planci. 2. Patterns of reef connectivity. Coral Reefs 9:125–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fabricius KE, Okaji K, De’ath G (2010) Three lines of evidence to link outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns seastar Acanthaster planci to the release of larval food limitation. Coral Reefs 29:593–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fraschetti S, Giangrande A, Terlizzi A, Boero F (2003) Pre- and post-settlement events in benthic community dynamics. Oceanol Acta 25:285–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gay SL, Andrews JC, Black KP (1990) Dispersal of neutrally-buoyant material near John Brewer Reef. In: Acanthaster and the coral reef: a theoretical perspective. Springer, Berlin, 95–119Google Scholar
  14. Harii S, Nadaoka K, Yamamoto M, Iwao K (2007) Temporal changes in settlement, lipid content and lipid composition of larvae of the spawning hermatypic coral Acropora tenuis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 346:89–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hunt HL, Scheibling RE (1997) Role of early post-settlement mortality in recruitment of benthic marine invertebrates. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 155:269–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kayal M, Vercelloni J, de Loma TL, Bosserelle P, Chancerelle Y, Geoffroy S, Stievenart C, Michonneau F, Penin L, Planes S, Adjeroud M (2012) Predator crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreak, mass mortality of corals, and cascading effects on reef fish and benthic communities. PLoS One 7(10):e47363. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047363 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Keesing JK, Halford AR (1992) Importance of postsettlement processes for the population-dynamics of Acanthaster planci (L). J Mar Freshw Res 43:635–651CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kinjo K, Higa E, Oshiro Y (2006) Nutrients state in coral reef coastal sea area around Okinawa. Rep Okinawa Prefect Inst Health Environ 40:107–113Google Scholar
  19. Lamare M, Pecorino D, Hardy N, Liddy M, Byrne M, Uthicke S (2014) The thermal tolerance of crown-of-thorns (Acanthaster planci) embryos and bipinnaria larvae: implications for spatial and temporal variation in adult populations. Coral Reefs 33:207–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lane DJW (2012) Acanthaster planci impact on coral communities at permanent transect sites on Bruneian reefs, with a regional overview and a critique on outbreak causes. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 92:803–809CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lucas JS (1982) Quantitative studies of feeding and nutrition during larval development of the coral-reef asteroid Acanthaster planci (L). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 65:173–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mendonca VM, Al Jabri MM, Al Ajmi I, Al Muharrami M, Al Areimi M, Al Aghbari HA (2010) Persistent and expanding population outbreaks of the corallivorous starfish Acanthaster planci in the northwestern Indian Ocean: are they really a consequence of unsustainable starfish predator removal through overfishing in coral reefs, or a response to a changing environment? Zool Stud 49:108–123Google Scholar
  23. Moran PJ (1986) The Acanthaster phenomenon. Oceanogr Mar Biol 24:379–480Google Scholar
  24. Moran PJ, Death G (1992) Estimates of the abundance of the crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster-planci in outbreaking and non-outbreaking populations on reefs within the Great-Barrier-Reef. Mar Biol 113:509–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moran PJ, Death G, Baker VJ, Bass DK, Christie CA, Miller IR, Millersmith BA, Thompson AA (1992) Pattern of outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci L) along the Great Barrier Reef since 1966. J Mar Freshw Res 43:555–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nakajima Y, Nishikawa A, Iguchi A, Sakai K (2010) Gene flow and genetic diversity of a broadcast-spawning coral in northern peripheral populations. PLoS One 5(6):e11149. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011149 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nishihira M, Yamazato K (1972) Brief survey of Acanthaster planci in Sesoko Island and its vicinity, Okinawa. Sesoko Mar Sci Lab Tec Rep 1:1–20Google Scholar
  28. Okinawa Prefecture (2007) Research Report on management of coasts, basins and forests (in Japanese), p.279Google Scholar
  29. Okinawa Prefecture (2009) Reports of coral reef surveys around Okinawa Island (in Japanese), p.186Google Scholar
  30. Pineda J, Porri F, Starczak V, Blythe J (2010) Causes of decoupling between larval supply and settlement and consequences for understanding recruitment and population connectivity. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 392:9–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pratchett MS (2005) Dynamics of an outbreak population of Acanthaster planci at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef (1995–1999). Coral Reefs 24:453–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pratchett MS, Schenk TJ, Baine M, Syms C, Baird AH (2009) Selective coral mortality associated with outbreaks of Acanthaster planci L. in Bootless Bay, Papua New Guinea. Mar Environ Res 67:230–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Reichelt RE, Bradbury RH, Moran PJ (1990) Distribution of Acanthaster planci outbreaks on the Great-Barrier-Reef between 1966 and 1989. Coral Reefs 9:97–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sakai K, Muzik K, Nakamura S, Nishihira M (1988) A note on resurvey of coral communities and Acnathaster populations around Okinawa Island in 1984. Galaxea 7:41–51Google Scholar
  35. Shimoda T, Ichikawa T, Matsukawa Y (1998) Nutrient conditions and their effects on coral growth in reefs around Ryukyu Islands. Bull Natl Res Inst Fish Sci 12:71–80Google Scholar
  36. Stump R (1996) An investigation to describe the population dynamics of Acanthaster planci (L.) around Lizard Island, Cairns section, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, vol 10. CRC Reef Research CentreGoogle Scholar
  37. Suzuki G, Arakaki S, Hayashibara T (2011) Rapid in situ settlement following spawning by Acropora corals at Ishigaki, southern Japan. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 421:131–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Underwood AJ, Fairweather PG (1989) Supply-side ecology and benthic marine assemblages. Trends Ecol Evol 4:16–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Uthicke S, Schaffelke B, Byrne M (2009) A boom-bust phylum? Ecological and evolutionary consequences of density variations in echinoderms. Ecol Monogr 79:3–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Weber JN, Woodhead PM (1970) Ecological studies of coral predator Acanthaster planci in South-Pacific. Mar Biol 6:12–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Yamaguch M (1974) Growth of juvenile Acanthaster planci (L) in the laboratory. Pac Sci 28:123–138Google Scholar
  42. Yamaguchi M (1973) Recruitment of coral reef asteroids, with emphasis on Acanthaster planci (L.). Micronesica 9:207–212Google Scholar
  43. Yamaguchi M (1986) Acanthaster planci infestations of reefs and coral assemblages in Japan: a retrospective analysis of control efforts. Coral Reefs 5:23–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yasuda N, Nagai S, Hamaguchi M, Okaji K, Gerard K, Nadaoka K (2009) Gene flow of Acanthaster planci (L.) in relation to ocean currents revealed by microsatellite analysis. Mol Ecol 18:1574–1590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Yasuda N, Ogasawara K, Kajiwara K, Ueno M, Oki K, Taniguchi H, Kakuma S, Okaji K, Nadaoka K (2010) Latitudinal differentiation in the reproduction patterns of the crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci through the Ryukyu Island Archipelago. Plankton Benthos Res 5:156–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Yokochi H (2004) Predation damage on corals. Coral Reefs of Japan, pp 49–55Google Scholar
  47. Zann L, Brodie J, Berryman C, Naqasima M (1987) Recruitment, ecology, growth and behavior of juvenile Acanthaster planci (L) (Echinodermata, Asteroidea). Bull Mar Sci 41:561–575Google Scholar
  48. Zann L, Brodie J, Vuki V (1990) History and dynamics of the crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci (L) in the Suva area, Fiji. Coral Reefs 9:135–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Masako Nakamura
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ken Okaji
    • 2
  • Yoshimi Higa
    • 3
  • Eiji Yamakawa
    • 4
  • Satoshi Mitarai
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Biophysics UnitOkinawa Institute of Science and TechnologyOnnaJapan
  2. 2.Coralquest Inc.AtsugiJapan
  3. 3.Onna Village Fisheries CooperativeOnnaJapan
  4. 4.Okinawa Environment Science CenterUrasoeJapan

Personalised recommendations