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Mar Pollut Bull. 2005;51(1-4):266-78. Epub 2004 Dec 15.

Are increased nutrient inputs responsible for more outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish? An appraisal of the evidence.

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Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research, James Cook University, Townsville 4811, Australia.


The cause(s) of primary outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) are still subject to scientific controversy. The possibility of primary outbreaks being linked to terrestrial runoff has been postulated a number of times, suggesting that enhanced nutrient supply is critical for enhanced A. planci larval development. This paper examines the evidence for such a cause, focussing particularly on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Nutrient discharges from rivers have increased at least four-fold in the central GBR over the last century, and concentrations of large phyto-plankton (>2 microm) of the inshore central GBR shelf in the wet season when A. planci larvae develop, is double that of other places and times. Larval development, growth and survival increase almost ten-fold with doubled concentrations of large phyto-plankton. This and other lines of evidence suggest that frequent A. planci outbreaks on the GBR may indeed be a result of increased nutrient delivery from the land.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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