First record and impact of the crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci (Spinulosida: Acanthasteridae) on corals of Malpelo Island, Colombian Pacific
The crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, is a major coral predator widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific region, where population outbreaks have caused dramatic impacts on coral reefs. In the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) A. planci occurs at low population densities; it has been significantly abundant only in Panama and Cocos Island. We have recently found two individuals of A. planci at Malpelo Island, a small oceanic island with significant coral communities located off the Colombian Pacific coast. The recent discovery of A. planci at Malpelo is significant in light of recent reports of its increased frequency of observation at Cocos Island and occurrence at the Galapagos Islands. The individuals found at Malpelo have been repeatedly sighted since 2004, actively feeding on nine species of coral. Although densities of A. planci are low at Malpelo and other oceanic islands of the TEP, these islands may act as stepping stones for the colonization of other coral reef areas in the region. However, the low densities of A. planci suggest that it currently poses no threat to coral reefs in the TEP.
Keywords: acanthaster planci, coral reefs, crown-of-thorns starfish, malpelo island, Colombia, Tropical Eastern Pacific