PloS one, 8(12):e82938, 1, 2013. Paper Website abstract bibtex
Coral reefs are marine biodiversity hotspots, but their existence is threatened by global change and local pressures such as land-runoff and overfishing. Population explosions of coral-eating crown of thorns sea stars (COTS) are a major contributor to recent decline in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef. Here, we investigate how projected near-future ocean acidification (OA) conditions can affect early life history stages of COTS, by investigating important milestones including sperm motility, fertilisation rates, and larval development and settlement. OA (increased pCO2 to 900-1200 µatm pCO2) significantly reduced sperm motility and, to a lesser extent, velocity, which strongly reduced fertilization rates at environmentally relevant sperm concentrations. Normal development of 10 d old larvae was significantly lower under elevated pCO2 but larval size was not significantly different between treatments. Settlement of COTS larvae was significantly reduced on crustose coralline algae (known settlement inducers of COTS) that had been exposed to OA conditions for 85 d prior to settlement assays. Effect size analyses illustrated that reduced settlement may be the largest bottleneck for overall juvenile production. Results indicate that reductions in fertilisation and settlement success alone would reduce COTS population replenishment by over 50%. However, it is unlikely that this effect is sufficient to provide respite for corals from other negative anthropogenic impacts and direct stress from OA and warming on corals.