Fish faeces reveals which species eat crown-of-thorns

Published:

Dr Frederieke Kroon looking at a crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: D.Westcott/CSIRO

Crown-of-thorns starfish are on the menu for many more fish species than previously suspected, an investigation using fish poo and gut goo reveals.

The finding suggests that some fish, including popular eating and aquarium species, might have a role to play in keeping the destructive pest population under control.

The native starfish (Acanthaster solaris) is responsible for widespread damage to the Great Barrier Reef. Since 1962 its population has surged to plague proportions on three occasions, each time causing the loss of large amounts of hard coral. A fourth outbreak is currently underway.

Increasing the amount of predation on starfish has long been touted as a potential solution to preventing outbreaks. However, aside from a mollusc called the Giant Triton (Charonia tritonis), identifying what eats it has been a challenging task.

Now, a team of scientists led by Dr Frederieke Kroon from the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, Australia, has applied a genetic marker unique for crown-of-thorns, developed at AIMS, to detect the presence of starfish DNA in fish poo and gut contents.

Over three years, Dr Kroon's team used it on samples taken from 678 fish from 101 species, comprising 21 families, gathered from reefs experiencing varying levels of starfish outbreak.

"Our results strongly indicate that direct fish predation on crown-of-thorns may well be more common than is currently appreciated," said Dr Kroon.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, confirms that at least 18 coral reef fish species – including Spangled Emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus), Redthroat Emperor (Lethrinus miniatus) and Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus) – consume young or adult starfish on the reef.

Among the species were nine which had not been previously reported to feed on crown-of-thorns. These include the Neon Damsel (Pomacentrus coelistis), Redspot Emperor (Lethrinus lentjan), and the Blackspot Snapper (Lutjanus fulviflama).

"Our findings might also solve a mystery – why reef areas that are closed to commercial and recreational fishing tend to have fewer starfish than areas where fishing is allowed," said Dr Kroon.

She and colleagues from AIMS worked with researchers from CSIRO Land and Water and managers from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to conduct the study.

"This innovative research sheds new light on the extent that coral reef fishes eat crown-of-thorns starfish," said Mr Darren Cameron, co-author of the paper, and Director of the COTS Control Program at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

"A number of the fish species shown to feed on these starfish are caught by commercial and recreational fisheries, highlighting the importance of marine park zoning and effective fisheries management in controlling crown-of-thorns starfish across the Great Barrier Reef."

This research was supported by funding from the Ian Potter Foundation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Grants Scheme; the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation; and the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program's Tropical Water Quality Hub.

 
Animals Wildlife or Pets Australian Government Community Environment
Social:   

Australian Government :
Canberra ACT 2600, Australia Wide
02 6277 7111
Australian Government
Showing 10+ recent articles for this business
Tenth report of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program―Australia's stimulant consumption among the highest in the world 30 June 2020 | The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) today released the tenth report of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, covering sampling in October and December 2019 and February 2020. More information...
Economics Committee to scrutinise financial advice sector 30 June 2020 28 June 2020 | The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics will scrutinise the financial advice sector at a hearing by videoconference on 30 June 2020, as part of its ongoing review of the four major banks and... More information...
AIS and Sport Australia celebrates FIFA Women's World Cup bid win 26 June 2020 | The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Sport Australia believe the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup will have an enormously positive impact on football and broader sport at all levels, welcoming today's announc... More information...
Wake up call for labour hire employers on wages 19 June 2020 | An Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) audit of 63 labour hire employers revealed a disappointing 79 per cent didn’t meet all their obligations under Australia’s workplace laws. This incl... More information...
Public hearing to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on people with disability 18 June 2020 | The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has announced a public hearing to examine the experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID-19 pand... More information...
Walking the allergy tightrope 15 June 2020 | The House of Representatives Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee today released its report into allergies and anaphylaxis in Australia. More information...
First Nations People with Disability issues paper 09 June 2020 | The latest issues paper released by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability seeks information about the experiences of First Nations people with disability. More information...
Shining a light on the scourge of family violence 05 June 2020 | In Australia, one woman is killed every nine days by a current or former partner, and one in six women has experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner. Behind these statistics are the... More information...
National Museum unveils the untold stories of Cook and the First Australians 02 June 2020 | The view from the ship and the view from the shore will feature in a major exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, marking the 250th anniversary of Lieutenant James Cook's remarkable 1770... More information...
Public hearing for question time inquiry 03 June 2020 | The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure is holding a public hearing as part of its inquiry examining the practices and procedures relating to question time in the House. More information...


comments powered by Disqus

All articles submitted by third parties or written by My Sunshine Coast come under our Disclaimer / Terms of Service