Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

Research Article

Acanthaster planci impact on coral communities at permanent transect sites on Bruneian reefs, with a regional overview and a critique on outbreak causes

David J.W. Lanea1 c1

a1 Department of Biology, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Jalan Tungku Link, BE 1410, Brunei Darussalam

Abstract

The submerged coral reefs of Brunei, little-impacted by human activity and characterized by high live coral cover, have no recorded history in recent decades of the presence of the crown-of-thorns (COT), Acanthaster planci. This sea star, first recorded on Brunei reefs in 2008, attained outbreak densities in 2010. At Littledale Shoal its impact on corals at permanent transect sites has been quantified; mean live coral cover reduced by half from 2006 to 2010 due predominantly to predation. Line intersect transect data confirm a predisposition for tabular Acropora species, a prominent feature at this site, although other scleractinian taxa were also predated. Other regional outbreaks are reviewed, including episodes, and their timing, within the neighbouring Coral Triangle (CT). Mounting evidence implicates nutrient-enhanced increases in primary production as a primary cause of COT outbreaks. However, this stands in contrast with a report of global oceanic phytoplankton decline in the past century, and there is little evidence of such a link in the CT, even though this region is characterized by high precipitation, erosional plumes and seasonal upwelling-associated phytoplankton blooms. Furthermore, until survivorship and competency for a wider spectrum of mass-spawned invertebrate planktotrophs in relation to elevated phytoplankton densities is better understood, such evidence, suggesting release from food limitation as the principal cause of enhanced COT recruitment, should be interpreted with caution.

(Received November 25 2010)

(Accepted May 16 2011)

(Online publication July 22 2011)

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: D.J.W. Lane, Department of Biology, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Jalan Tungku Link, BE 1410 Brunei Darussalam email: david.lane@ubd.edu.bn