Fish poop exposes what eats the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish

Monday, June 8, 2020 - 05:10 in Biology & Nature

Adorned with spikes and toxins, crown-of-thorns starfish aren’t an easy meal. In fact, it’s long been thought that few animals could eat them. But an analysis of fish poop and stomach contents from dozens of Great Barrier Reef species reveals a surprising number of fish able to gulp down these prickly prey, researchers report May 18 in Scientific Reports. That’s good news for coral reefs. Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) have an appetite for living coral polyps. As they crawl over the reef, the starfish liquefy polyps with digestive enzymes, sponging up the nutrients and leaving behind a coral skeleton. Since 1962, periodic starfish population booms on the Great Barrier Reef have caused widespread coral death. By identifying which fish species can stomach a thorny diet, the new study reveals a possible way to suppress crown-of-thorns outbreaks.  Until now, the crown-of-thorns’ list of known natural predators was very short. Giant tritons (Charonia tritonis) — huge sea snails — were documented starfish slayers, injecting crown-of-thorns with...

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