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Destructive outbreaks of the corallivorous starfish Acanthaster cf. solaris spare coral assemblages in the shallowest reef flat areas in New Caledonia

Abstract : Abstract Outbreaks of the corallivorous starfish Acanthaster cf. solaris (COTS) are not fully understood, especially in the shallowest areas behind the reef crests where limited COTS impacts are often reported. Here, we investigated the outbreak occurrence and compared post-outbreak habitat impacts in reef flats vs. upper fore reefs at 13 sites in New Caledonia. In this Pacific territory so far considered marginally affected by COTS, we documented wide occurrences of aggregations, combining massive population increases (maximum 605 COTS per swim, abundances >100 COTS recorded in 46% of the sites) with limited spatiotemporal boundaries. Abundance levels met the highest values in the literature, but were restricted to relatively small, isolated mid-shelf reefs. Typical residence time was short (< two years), with at least one site where COTS seemingly disappeared within seven months. The spread of COTS population and subsequent impacts appeared self-contained, and never affected the reef flats (0.5–1.5 m). The transition to severely affected fore reefs was abrupt, with live coral cover divided by nine and morphological diversity halved within a very few meters (3–5 m). We suggest that these differential impacts likely result from harsh environmental conditions making shallow, coral-rich areas less suitable for COTS, thereby pushing predation pressure further downwards.
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https://hal.ird.fr/ird-03626979
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Submitted on : Friday, April 1, 2022 - 6:55:21 AM
Last modification on : Sunday, June 26, 2022 - 1:43:22 PM

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Pascal Dumas, Christophe Peignon, Mahé Dumas, Bertrand Bourgeois, Hugues Gossuin, et al.. Destructive outbreaks of the corallivorous starfish Acanthaster cf. solaris spare coral assemblages in the shallowest reef flat areas in New Caledonia. ICES Journal of Marine Science, Oxford University Press (OUP), 2022, 79 (2), pp.350-361. ⟨10.1093/icesjms/fsab262⟩. ⟨ird-03626979⟩

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