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New insights into the ecology and corallivory of Culcita sp. (Echinodermata: Asteroidea) in the Republic of Maldives

  • Enrico Montalbetti
  • Luca Saponari
  • Simone Montano
  • Davide Maggioni
  • Inga Dehnert
  • Paolo Galli
  • Davide Seveso
Primary Research Paper

Abstract

Although corallivory is recognized as a threat affecting the structure and integrity of coral reef habitats, ecological data on most species of coral consumers remain limited, slowing down the development of conservation and restoration strategies of the reef ecosystems. In this study, the population distribution and corallivorous behaviour of the cushion sea star Culcita sp. were investigated in the south region of Faafu Atoll, Maldives. Most sea stars were found on reef slopes within 0–10 m depth and in areas characterized by low live coral cover. Several coral genera were preyed on by the sea star. Although most of the consumed corals belong to the genus Acropora, a feeding preference for the genera Pocillopora and Pavona and a consistent avoidance of the genus Porites were observed. Furthermore, the majority of the prey corals were small colonies (< 10 cm diameter), even though Culcita sp. appeared to be capable of partially consuming larger colonies. Dietary preferences for specific coral colonies or genera have the potential to generate local shifts in coral community composition and structure and may affect reef recovery following natural and anthropogenic disturbance in an already impacted environment such as the Maldivian reefs.

Keywords

Culcita sp. Cushion sea star Corallivory Feeding preferences Maldives Pocillopora 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank all the staff of Marine Research and High Education Center (MaRHE Center) of the University of Milano-Bicocca, in Magoodhoo Island (Faafu, Maldives) for the logistical help provided, as well as the population and the community of the island for supporting this research. The authors are also grateful to Virginia Allevi and Luca Fallati for technical support during the sampling activities.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enrico Montalbetti
    • 1
    • 2
  • Luca Saponari
    • 1
    • 2
  • Simone Montano
    • 1
    • 2
  • Davide Maggioni
    • 1
    • 2
  • Inga Dehnert
    • 2
  • Paolo Galli
    • 1
    • 2
  • Davide Seveso
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Earth Sciences (DISAT)University of Milano – BicoccaMilanoItaly
  2. 2.MaRHE Center (Marine Research and High Education Centre)Magoodhoo Island, Faafu AtollRepublic of Maldives

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