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: Should the role of afforestation in climate change mitigation policy be re-evaluated?

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 northeast braces for flooding after record snow

13 hours ago

Weather forecasters and emergency officials warned Sunday that melting snow would lead to heavy flooding in parts of the US northeast, with hundreds of thousands of people told to brace for fast-rising waters.

3Qs: Game theory and global climate talks

Nov 21, 2014

Last week, China and the United States announced an ambitious climate agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions in both countries, a pledge that marks the first time that China has agreed to stop its growing emissions. ...

From hurricanes to drought, LatAm's volatile climate

Nov 21, 2014

Sixteen years ago, Teodoro Acuna Zavala lost nearly everything when Hurricane Mitch ravaged his fields, pouring 10 days of torrential rains on Central America and killing more than 9,000 people.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.