Bioenergetics of the common seastar Asterias rubens: a keystone predator and pest for European bivalve culture

Antonio Aguera*, Camille Saurel, Lene F. Møller, Isla Fitridge, Jens Kjerulf Petersen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Losses due to predation are recognized as an important factor affecting shellfish stocks, restoration efforts and aquaculture production. Managing and mitigating the impact of predators require information on the population dynamics and functional responses to prey availability under varying environmental conditions. Asterias spp. are well-known keystone predators with the capacity to exert a top down control on shellfish populations. Asterias spp. populations are extremely plastic, booming fast when prey is abundant and exhibiting a remarkable individual resilience to starvation and adverse environmental conditions. These aspects have led Asterias spp. to be considered pests by shellfish producers and fishers and to be catalogued among the most devastating invasive species. Assessment and mitigation of the impact of Asterias rubens in northern Europe have been the objective of several projects. However, there is still a limited understanding of the processes behind A. rubens population plasticity and how environmental conditions affect individual growth and predation. Under these circumstances a comprehensive eco-physiological model becomes necessary. These models can integrate available information on biology and eco-physiology to gain understanding of the effect of the environmental conditions on the impact of A. rubens. In this work, we performed a number of eco-physiological experiments and combined them with field data from a Danish estuary to estimate and validate the parameters of a dynamic energy budget (DEB) model for the whole life cycle of A. rubens. DEB models can be used to assess the effects of environmental variability on the life cycle and key population traits allowing the prediction of the performance, abundance, resource requirements and potential distribution of individuals and populations under dynamic environments. As such the DEB model presented in this study aims to become a tool to be used to assess and manage the impact of A. rubens in cultured and natural shellfish populations. The successfully parameterised DEB model describes A. rubens as a plastic species, an efficient predator with low maintenance costs and, at least while feeding on mussels, a high energy yield from its prey. The model validation against independent data resulted in the model being capable to assess growth, food demand, reproductive output and reserves dynamics of A. rubens under experimental and natural conditions. Moreover, application of the model to the Limfjorden seastar fishery is used to further discuss the use of the model to understand biology and ecology of this pest species in the context with the management of shellfish stocks and impact mitigation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number48
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number4
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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