Reef complexity influences distribution and habitat choice of the corallivorous seastar Culcita schmideliana in the Maldives

Enrico Montalbetti, Luca Fallati*, Marco Casartelli, Davide Maggioni, Simone Montano, Paolo Galli, Davide Seveso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

The cushion seastar Culcita schmideliana has gained major attention in the last few years because of its selective predation on juvenile corals, as well as its ability to generate large demographic assemblages, causing delays in coral recovery after large mortality events in the Republic of Maldives. However, a lack of data regarding the factors affecting its distribution and habitat selection still persists in this area. Here, we adopted a novel approach in the study of corallivorous seastar habitat selection that combined ecological and digital photogrammetry data. In this regard, we tested 3 different parameters as factors influencing seastar habitat choice in the South-East region of Faafu Atoll, Republic of Maldives, namely prey abundance, Linear Rugosity Index (LRI), and Average Slope (AS). The analysis of selectivity coefficient (Ei) of seastars for different habitat types showed a preference for reefs characterized by medium AS values (Ei = 0.268), a LRI included between 2 and 2.5 (Ei = 0.180), and a juvenile coral density ranging between 10 and 20 colonies m−2 (Ei = 0.154). A multiple linear regression analysis showed that different AS and LRI values explained the 43.1% (R2 = 0.431, P = 0.007) and the 48.1% (R2 = 0.481, P = 0.024) of variance in seastars abundance, respectively, while juvenile coral densities did not significantly affect this (R2 = 0.132, P = 0.202). These results provide new information on the distribution and behaviour of an important corallivore of Maldivian reefs, such as C. schmideliana.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-264
Number of pages12
JournalCoral Reefs
Volume41
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
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 Luca Saponari and Inga Dehnert for technical support during the sampling activities.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

Keywords

  • Corallivory
  • Cushion seastar
  • Habitat selection
  • Structure from Motion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science

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