Invasive brittle star species hits Atlantic Ocean

Aug 16, 2012

Coral Reefs, the Journal of the International Society for Reef Studies, has published online a study co-written by Dr. Gordon Hendler of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) about an invasive species of brittle star, Ophiothela mirabilis. The species was previously restricted to Pacific waters, but surprisingly, growing populations have established themselves at distant points in the Atlantic. Its presence near Brazilian and Caribbean ports indicates that O. mirabilis could have been spread by shipping.

The marine animal is colorful and six-rayed. It clings in multitudes to corals and sponges and reproduces asexually, by splitting in two and regenerating severed body structures. The ability of one star to "clone" vast numbers of identical twins enormously increases the species capacity to proliferate and disperse.

The impact of the ophiothela brittle star remains to be seen. Like most (except for commercially important species) we know little about its biology, so it is difficult to envision how it will affect the ecology of its new ocean. But further expansion of the range of Ophiothela could alter the appearance and the ecology of Atlantic coral because ophiothelas, in multitudes, densely colonize gorgonians and sponges on Indo-West central Pacific and on tropical eastern Pacific reefs.

"I imagine that when my grandchildren learn to scuba dive," Hendler says, "Caribbean reefs will look very different than they do today, in part because many corals and sponges may be covered with a network of invasive yellow brittle stars."

Invasive species have a massive impact on our economy and our environment, causing over 100 billion dollars of damage in the U.S. alone, every year. Invasive echinoderm species are exceptional (invasive plants and insects are much more numerous). Probably the best known is the Japanese sea star (Asterias amurensis) that was native to the north Pacific and now damages fisheries in Tasmania and southern Australia. Notably, it is among the species that recently washed ashore in Oregon on Japanese Tsunami debris.

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sponge competition may damage corals

May 03, 2011

Sponges are a group of common and diverse aquatic creatures, very abundant in coral reefs where they are an important part of the ecosystem. But new research has found that if the balance is disturbed, sponges ...

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...