New Insights into Juvenile Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Behaviors Threatening Reefs - Science Label

New Insights into Juvenile Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Behaviors Threatening Reefs


The crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.) poses a significant threat to coral reefs, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. Recent research has uncovered new insights into the behaviors of juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), revealing patterns that may help scientists develop more effective strategies for managing their populations and protecting coral reefs. This article explores these new findings, the biology of COTS, and the implications for reef conservation in the context of climate change.

Background on Crown-of-Thorns Starfish

The crown-of-thorns starfish is named for its venomous spines and its significant impact on coral reefs. These starfish are corallivores, meaning they feed on coral polyps, leading to substantial coral degradation during outbreaks. A single adult COTS can consume up to six square meters of coral per year. COTS reproduce through broadcast spawning, where millions of eggs are released and fertilized in the water, leading to high larval survival rates and the potential for rapid population growth (

New Insights into Juvenile Behaviors

Recent studies have focused on understanding the growth rates and feeding behaviors of juvenile COTS. For example, research conducted on the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) measured growth rates of juvenile starfish and found considerable variation, with rates increasing with age. One-month-old juveniles grow at a rate of approximately 0.028–0.041 mm per day, while twelve-month-old juveniles grow at a rate of 0.108–0.216 mm per day. These growth rates are critical for modeling population dynamics and predicting outbreak potential (

Additionally, juvenile COTS exhibit a significant dietary shift from feeding on coralline algae to coral as they grow. This shift is crucial for their survival and growth, allowing them to persist in the absence of coral by feeding on alternative food sources. This adaptability complicates management efforts, as juveniles can survive for extended periods without coral, waiting for conditions to become favorable for growth and reproduction (

Impact of Climate Change

Climate change exacerbates the threat posed by COTS to coral reefs. Rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification weaken coral health, making them more susceptible to predation by COTS. Furthermore, climate change can influence the reproductive cycles and larval survival of COTS, potentially leading to more frequent and severe outbreaks. Research has shown that juvenile COTS exhibit enhanced growth and feeding rates in warmer ocean conditions, suggesting that climate change could accelerate their population growth and impact on reefs (

Genetic Insights and Management Strategies

Advances in genetic research have provided new tools for managing COTS populations. By analyzing the genetic makeup of wild COTS populations, scientists can better understand their reproductive and stress responses, which can inform the development of targeted control measures. For instance, genetic analysis has revealed specific gene expressions related to reproductive and stress-related systems, offering potential targets for biological control methods (

Traditional methods of controlling COTS populations, such as manual removal and lethal injections, are labor-intensive and not always feasible on a large scale. New approaches, including the use of natural predators and genetic interventions, are being explored to provide more sustainable and effective solutions (

Implications for Reef Conservation

The insights gained from recent research on juvenile COTS behaviors and genetics have significant implications for reef conservation. By understanding the factors that drive COTS outbreaks and their interactions with the environment, scientists can develop more effective strategies to mitigate their impact. This includes improving early detection and intervention methods, as well as enhancing the resilience of coral reefs to withstand both natural and anthropogenic stresses (


The new insights into the behaviors of juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish provide valuable information for managing their populations and protecting coral reefs. As climate change continues to impact marine ecosystems, it is crucial to develop adaptive and effective strategies to mitigate the threats posed by COTS. Collaborative research and innovative management approaches will be essential in preserving the biodiversity and resilience of coral reefs for future generations.

For more detailed information on this topic, you can visit and MDPI.

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