DID YOU KNOW?
Fertilisation of COTSgametes has beenrecorded when parentsare up to 100 metresapart!
centimetre) feed on crustosecoralline algae, whereas theadults eat living coral tissue.The adult COTS’method ofconsuming coral is quiteunusual. It feeds by extrudingits stomach out through itsmouth to cover the coralsurface, where it proceeds todigest the living coral tissuewith stomach enzymes. Thedigested coral tissue is thenabsorbed and the stomach re-ingested, leaving a white roundfeeding scar of coral skeleton. Ithas been estimated that anindividual starfish will consumefive to six square metres of coraltissue per year, however likemany starfish and sea urchins,COTS may survivewithoutfeeding for up to nine months.The COTS usually breed fromDecember to April, when theambient water temperature isapproximately 28
C. COTSmay spawn during the day or atnight, and at various stages ofthe tide during different times inthe month. When spawning,male and female starfish gatherin shallow water, and releasetheir eggs and sperm. Eachindividual female starfish mayrelease up to 60 million eggs in asingle spawning season. Thelarvae of COTS are free-floating(pelagic) and may spend twotofour weeks drifting on oceancurrents before settling onto areef. The free-floating larvae aredispersed between reefs by thesecurrents, with studies showingthat they have the potential to be transported up to 100km in aweek.
The impact of the COTS’feedinghabits on a reef depends on thedensity of starfish. When thereare few starfish, the COTS willtend to feed nocturnally on anumber of preferred coralspecies (generally fast growing
corals such as staghornand plate corals), and rarelyconsume whole colonies ofcoral. This selective feedingmay not kill live coral and is apart of the natural ecology of acoral reef. However, outbreaksof COTScan have large impactson coral reefs.
When is it an outbreak?
An outbreak occurs when thedensity of COTS is high enoughthat they consume coral fasterthan the corals can grow. Underoutbreak conditions thepreferred
corals, aswell as other less favouredcorals, are eaten. In outbreakconditions coral cover candecline to less than one percent. However,not all reefs areequally affected by a COTSoutbreak. During the 1979 to1991 outbreak, only 17 per centof more than 2800 coral reefs inthe Great Barrier Reef WorldHeritage Area were affected byCOTS, with only five per cent ofreefs having severe outbreaks.The decline in coral coverresulting from an outbreak hassignificant ecological flow-oneffects on the whole reefcommunity. However, corals