Crown-of-thorns starfish actually four species

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A study published in the latest issue of the journal Biology Letters has identified the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci), a species thought to be widely distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific, to consist of a species complex with as many as four species.

Catherine Vogler and coworkers used sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I gene from crown-of-thorns starfish samples covering its entire distribution to demonstrate that the species consists of four deeply diverged clades (from the Red Sea, Pacific Ocean, northern Indian Ocean and southern Indian Ocean respectively).

There are conservation implications to this discovery.

The outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea do not appear to be as massive and widespread as in the Pacific, suggesting that outbreak patterns might vary between the different sibling species.

This in turn implies that lineage-specific management may be necessary to contain these outbreaks.

For more information, see the paper: Vogler, C, J Benzie, H Lessios, P Barber and G Wrheide (2008) A threat to coral reefs multiplied? Four species of crown-of-thorns starfish. Biology Letters 4, pp. 696"699.