Paul Barber inThe Keene Sentinel: Scientists tackle starﬁsh plagues on Great Barrier Reef
Upon first glance, the crown-of-thorns starfish looks a lot like an enemy creature you’d find in a nature-based video game. But its exterior isn’t nearly as intimidating as its appetite. By the time a crown-of-thorns matures at 4 months old, it eats live coral voraciously — up to its own body weight in one evening. These starfish are the second biggest threat to the already endangered Great Barrier Reef — the world’s largest coral reef system, right behind tropical cyclones.
“Because crown-of-thorns starfish juveniles have the ability to stay in an algae feeding form for up to six years, there could be an accumulation of multiple generations of juveniles that are happily feeding on algae until there is a specific cue that catalyzes their transition to feeding on corals,” says Paul Barber, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California at Los Angeles.