The Impact of Acanthaster on Corals and Coral Reefs in the Eastern Pacific

Peter W. Glynn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The movement of surface currents and the availability of coral prey are probably not responsible for the discontinuities in the distribution of Acanthaster (the Crown-of-thorns Starfish or Sea-star) in American waters. Temperature and salinity conditions are critical in development, and it is possible that these parameters are effective locally, for example in the Gulf of Panamá. There is a strong possibility that continuing field work will show that Acanthaster has a significantly more widespread distribution in the eastern Pacific than is currently known. Adult Acanthaster and several species of coral prey exhibited an unusually high tolerance to varying conditions of temperature and salinity. The possibility of step-wise colonization to new areas, mediated by resistant adult populations that can become established during favourable seasons, should be considered in any plans to alter the existing freshwater canal in Panamá. For introductions can be environmentally dangerous. The highest population densities of Acanthaster so far observed in the eastern Pacific, 1 individual/40 m2 to approximately 1 individual/100 m2, are comparable to population sizes in the Indo-Pacific region that are not considered to have a serious impact on coral communities. Coral destruction by Acanthaster can be significant in certain limited areas, but is usually less than that caused by other corallivores. An analysis of coral community structure in relation to Acanthaster density failed to show a significant correlation with (a) number of species, (b) number of live coral colonies, (c) species diversity (H'), or (d) species evenness (J'). Prey preference data indicate that Acanthaster selectively destroys rare corals. Replacement of rare, predated corals by fast-growing species (Pocillopora spp.) has been observed in the field, showing that Acanthaster could have a negative effect on species diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-304
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Conservation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1974

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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