Population outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns sea star (COTS), a predator of coral, can cause widespread coral mortality. COTS are herbivorous as juveniles but then switch to coral consumption as they grow to adulthood. When researchers exposed juvenile COTS to heat stress scenarios at time and temperature durations designed to reflect conditions that cause coral bleaching and mortality, juveniles exhibited tolerance to heatwave conditions well above levels that kill coral.
The findings, which are published in Global Change Biology, indicate that juvenile COTS are likely to persist as major coral predators in reefs already vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“This is an important finding that has implications for understanding the impacts of climate change on coral reefs,” said corresponding author Prof. Maria Byrne, of the University Sydney, in Australia. “Juvenile COTS may benefit from warming waters as the increase in their coral rubble habitat due to bleaching mortality may allow their numbers to build over time.”
URL upon publication: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.16946
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Global Change Biology
Juvenile waiting stage crown-of-thorns sea stars are resilient in heatwave conditions that bleach and kill corals
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