Abstract: Outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, represent one of the most significant biological disturbances on coral reefs and remain one of the principal causes of widespread decline in live coral cover in Indo-Pacific reefs. In the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), for example, predation by A. planci accounted for 42% of substantial declines in coral cover in the past 27 years. Increasing frequency and intensity of outbreak episodes have resulted in progressively slower recovery, which consequently degrades the integrity of reef ecosystems. Despite previous and ongoing efforts to control A. planci populations, outbreaks continue to occur throughout the Indo-Pacific and at many locations. In some of these locations, the effects of severe outbreaks have been far greater than combined effects of all other major disturbances, including climate-induced coral bleaching. Longterm or permanent solutions depend on filling crucial gaps in our knowledge of the biology of A. planci, particularly reproduction and early life history. The main objective of my research is to explore variations in tolerances and vulnerabilities of the early life history stages of A. planci to variable environmental conditions. I will specifically investigate the effect of different food availability, salinity, temperature, and pH conditions to establish key limitations in reproductive potential, fertilization success, larval development, and postsettlement growth. There is widespread recognition that these aspects of the biology of A. planci are fundamental in understanding the proximal causes of outbreaks.
Biography: Ciemon completed his BSc in Biology at Silliman University in the Philippines. He proceeded to work with the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation after his undergraduate studies and was involved in several coral reef management projects throughout the Philippines. He decided to pursue his MSc in Biology degree at the University of Guam in 2006, where he studied the role of chemical cues on the feeding ecology and distribution of crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) populations around Guam. After finishing his MSc, he continued to study and monitor chronic COTS outbreaks on Guam’s reefs and collaborated with JCU on developing novel techniques to control COTS populations. He is currently doing his PhD under the supervision of Prof. Morgan Pratchett, Dr. Jairo Rivera-Posada, and Dr. Alexander Kerr. His research explores environmental influences on the reproductive, larval, and postsettlement biology of COTS.