Temperature affects the reproductive outputs of coral-eating starfish Acanthaster spp. after adult exposure to near-future ocean warming and acidification

Highlights

  • It is possible to keep adult COTS in modified conditions for several months with minimal losses.

  • The natural peak of reproduction for COTS in New Caledonia is around the end of the calendar year.

  • A +2 °C warming exposure of 3–4 months have detrimental effects on quality and quantity of COTS eggs along with fertilisation success.

  • During sub-optimal spawning season, COTS fertilisation success drops by 3-fold for animals exposed to elevated temperature.

Abstract

Outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster spp. (COTS) have become to be amongst the most severe threats to coral reefs worldwide. Although most research has focused on COTS early development, it remains unclear how COTS populations will keep pace with changing ocean conditions. Since reproduction is a key process contributing to outbreaks, we investigated the reproductive success of adult COTS acclimated for 3–4 months to different treatment combinations of ambient conditions, ocean warming (+2 °C) and acidification (−0.35 pH). Our results suggest that the optimal breeding season in New Caledonia is concentrated around the end of the calendar year, when water temperature reaches >26 °C. We found negative effects of temperature on egg metrics, fertilisation success, and GSI, conflicting with previously documented effects of temperature on echinoderm reproductive outputs. Fertilisation success dropped drastically (more than threefold) with elevated temperature during the late breeding season. In contrast, we detected no effects of near-future acidification conditions on fertilisation success nor GSI. This is the first time that COTS reproduction is compared among individuals acclimated to different conditions of warming and acidification. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for adult exposure to better understand how COTS reproduction may be impacted in the face of global change.

Hue T., Chateau O., Lecellier G., Kayal M., Lanos N., Gossuin H.,  Adjeroud M. & Dumas P., in press. Temperature affects the reproductive outputs of coral-eating starfish Acanthaster spp. after adult exposure to near-future ocean warming and acidification. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).

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