Abstract

Introduction: Little is known about the biology and population dynamics of Acanthaster planci in Mexico. Its size is considered relevant because it is related to consumption rate. Objective: To describe the variability of the disk diameter and food type of the species in four sampling sites in the southern Gulf of California. Methods: Each site was visited on a monthly basis from February 2008 to March 2009. Disk diameter was registered from a total of 389 observed specimens. Measurements included only the main disk from side to side where the arms begin. A flexible tape was used to measure disk diameter. Three size groups were created for easier explanations: small (< 15 cm), medium (16-25 cm), and large (> 26 cm). From the total, only 298 asteroids were feeding. Preyed organisms were classified in hard corals, other invertebrates, and algae. The Simpson’s Diversity Index was used to calculate the probability that any specimen would be feeding on different types of organisms. A permutational analysis of variance was used to detect differences of disk diameter amongst months and study sites. Results: This population of Acanthaster planci had an average disk diameter = 18.23 + 0.21 cm, with a minimum of 7 cm and maximum of 36 cm. Size structure was unimodal and largely dominated by medium sized specimens, followed by small ones. The larger were less frequent. Disk diameter was statistically higher in February and lower in the last months of the year. San Rafaelito was the site with the largest and Ensenada de Muertos with the smallest organisms. Medium sized individuals were dominant throughout the year and sampling sites. The small sized fed significantly more on Porites panamensis and coralline algae and turf. Larger specimens had the lowest diversity values, more than 90 % of this size group fed on Pocillopora spp. and very few on macroalgae. Medium sized specimens showed the highest diversity, feeding on all the food types, although as expected, many of them were selective to Pocillopora spp. Conclusions: Acanthaster planci can be considered a medium sized species in the study area. There is an evident food selectivity regarding disk diameter size. The three size groups were positively selective to hard corals, but only the small favored Porites panamensis; and together with large individuals, they had the lowest diversity on food types, whereas medium sized asteroids fed on a high diversity of prey.

Keywords: crown of thorns starfish; food availability; reefs; size structure; Eastern Tropical Pacific.