Common starfish (Asterias rubens)

NBN Interactive08-05-2008

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Researched byGeorgina Budd Refereed byProf. David Nichols
AuthorityLinnaeus, 1758
Other common names- Synonyms-

Summary

Description

Asterias rubens is the most common and familiar starfish in the north-east Atlantic region. Asterias rubens may grow up to 52 cm in diameter, but commonly 10-30 cm. Asterias rubens is variable in colour, though usually orange, pale brown or violet. Deep-water specimens are pale. It has five tapering arms, broad at the base that are often slightly turned up at the tip when active.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Found on all British and Irish coasts, especially amongst beds of mussels and barnacles.

Global distribution

Abundant throughout the north-east Atlantic, from Arctic Norway, along Atlantic coasts to Senegal, and only found occasionally in the Mediterranean (Mortensen, 1927)

Habitat

Asterias rubens occurs in varying abundance upon a variety of substrata that include coarse and shelly gravel and rock. Reported abundances vary between 2-31 Asterias rubens per m² on fine sand and 324-809 specimens on algal carpets (Anger et al., 1977).

Depth range

Intertidal to depths of 650 m.

Identifying features

  • Disc small, five arms (rarely 4-8).
  • Body wall very flexible with numerous groups of papulae in soft areas.
  • Major spines on the upper surface often in one or more longitudinal rows, sometimes surrounded by bundles of straight and crossed pedicellariae.
  • Ventro-lateral spines just outside adambulacrals, in oblique rows.
  • Straight pedicellariae on lower surface in ambulacral grooves and attached to furrow spines.

Additional information

  • Asterias rubens is considered to be conspecific with Asterias vulgaris from the eastern seaboard of the United States of America and Canada (Coe, 1912).
  • The size of Asterias rubens varies markedly with food availability and hence size is not necessarily a good indicator of age.

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Biology review

Taxonomy

PhylumEchinodermataStarfish, brittlestars, sea urchins & sea cucumbers
ClassAsteroideaStarfish
OrderForcipulatida
FamilyAsteriidae
GenusAsterias
AuthorityLinnaeus, 1758
Recent Synonyms

Biology

Typical abundanceLow density
Male size range(Diameter) 10-50cmMale size at maturity(Diameter) 50mm
Female size range(Diameter) 50mmFemale size at maturity
Growth formRadialGrowth rate0.2-1cm/month
Body flexibilityHigh (greater than 45 degrees)Mobility
Characteristic feeding method
Diet/food source
Typically feeds onBivalves, polychaetes, small crustaceans, other echinoderms and carrion.
Sociability Environmental positionEpibenthic
DependencyIndependent.
SupportsHost

The caprellid amphipod Pariambus typicus, which is often found attached to the spines and a semiparasitic copepod Scottomyzon gibbosum. The male gonads may be parasitised by the ciliate Orchitophrya stellarum.

Is the species harmful?No

Biology information

Growth rate
There is considerable irregularity in the growth rate of starfish, especially during their first year.

  1. Vevers (1949) observed that with an abundant food supply, juvenile specimens of Asterias rubens could increase their radius at a monthly rate of slightly more than 10 mm in summer and autumn, and slightly less than 5 mm per month in winter.
  2. Orton & Frazer (1930) recorded an increase in diameter of 2.5 mm per month on average, and 5.0 mm per month maximum in Asterias rubens.
  3. Nichols & Barker (1984 b) followed the growth of annual cohorts in a population of Asterias rubens on an intertidal reef in Torbay, South Devon, UK, for three years. Growth was most rapid in the year following settlement and during the warmer months of the year. The average increase in starfish diameter over the first year was 28.5 mm, and over the second, 13.0 mm. The mean monthly increase in diameter over the three year period of the study was 2.2 mm. Starfish on the reef became sexually mature in their second year after attaining a diameter of 5 cm.

Under conditions of poor food supply the growth of Asterias rubens is limited and specimens may decline in size (Hancock, 1958). Vevers (1949) reported a specimen of Asterias rubens shrinking in radius from 6 cm to 3.8 cm after starvation for 5 months.
Thus the plasticity of the growth rate of Asterias rubens causes difficulties when studying the population dynamics of this species, especially as individuals cannot be aged by inspection of growth rings in any skeletal component of the body (Barker & Nichols, 1983).

Feeding
Asterias rubens preys upon a wide range of living organisms and carrion that include molluscs, polychaete worms and other echinoderms. Occasionally, small crustaceans are caught on the suction discs of the tube feet. Asterias rubens preys upon bivalve molluscs by forcing the bivalve's shell open with its tube-feet, the tips of which attach to the bivalve shell by suction. Once a tiny gap (<0.1 mm) is established between the valves of the prey species shell, the starfish everts its stomach lobes into the bivalve and commences digestion.

Detailed experimental studies (Castilla & Crisp, 1970, 1973; Castilla,1972) have established that Asterias rubens has a well developed olfactory sense with adaptive preferences and avoidances. Asterias rubens demonstrates positive rheotaxis (purposeful movement of a motile organism in to a water current), which is enhanced in the presence of living prey such as Mytilus edulis (Castilla, 1972 ) and reversed in the presence of a predator Crossaster papposus (Castilla, 1972b).

Other species of the benthic fauna, including prey species Marthasterias glacialis, Buccinum undatumand several species of ophiuroids, demonstrate avoidance reactions in the presence of the predatory starfish Asterias rubens (Feder & Arvidssen 1967; Russell, 1984). These species can detect Asterias rubens owing to the release of a surface-active saponin from its body surface (Mackie et al. 1968).

Habitat preferences

Physiographic preferencesOpen coast, Offshore seabed, Strait / sound, Enclosed coast / Embayment
Biological zone preferencesCircalittoral offshore, Lower circalittoral, Lower eulittoral, Lower infralittoral, Sublittoral fringe, Upper circalittoral, Upper infralittoral
Substratum / habitat preferencesBedrock, Coarse clean sand, Gravel / shingle
Tidal strength preferencesModerately Strong 1 to 3 knots (0.5-1.5 m/sec.), Strong 3 to 6 knots (1.5-3 m/sec.)
Wave exposure preferencesExposed, Moderately exposed, Sheltered, Very sheltered
Salinity preferencesFull (30-40 psu), Variable (18-40 psu)
Depth rangeIntertidal to depths of 650 m.
Other preferencesNo text entered
Migration PatternNon-migratory / resident

Habital Information

Aggregation of starfish
In shallow coastal waters Asterias rubens sometimes occurs in dense aggregations of up to 100 specimens per m² (Table VII, Sloan, 1980). Dare (1982) reported an aggregation of Asterias rubens in Morecambe Bay, UK. The aggregation occupied 2.5 ha (1600 x 15 m) at its peak and contained at least 2.4 x106 starfish of 6 cm mean arm radius. Feeding concentrations within the aggregation commonly attained 300-400 starfish per m² representing a wet weight biomass of approximately 12-16 kg m². It was estimated that the aggregation cleared a zone that contained 3500-4000 tonnes of Mytilus edulis within 3 months (June-August).

Factors causing the aggregations of Asterias rubens are unclear but suggestions have been made that calm weather, amenable temperature and feeding conditions act together to give rise occasionally to aggregations. The occurrence of the phenomenon is dependent upon a large population of Asterias rubens larvae prior to the aggregation, which itself would be a function of good larval recruitment and growth conditions. Thus the irregularity of aggregations of Asterias rubens may be due to the need of a complex set of environmental variables to occur in the correct sequence over a number of seasons before an aggregation can occur. In addition, concurrent good mussel recruitment may also be required because an abundant prey source is a necessary focal point for the starfish (Sloan, 1980).

Life history

Adult characteristics

Reproductive type Gonochoristic (dioecious) Reproductive frequency Annual episodic
Fecundity (number of eggs) >1,000,000 Generation time 1-2 years
Age at maturity 1 year Season February - April
Life span 5-10 years

Larval characteristics

Larval/propagule type - Larval/juvenile development Planktotrophic
Duration of larval stage See additional information Larval dispersal potential Greater than 10 km
Larval settlement period See additional information

Life history information

Longevity
According to Schäfer (1972), the life span of Asterias rubens is 7-8 years, which is in agreement with interpretation of size frequency histograms for French populations (Guillou, 1983).

Reproduction
Asterias rubens is dioecious. The female produces small eggs that are released into the sea and fertilized externally to develop as planktotrophic larvae. It has been estimated that a female starfish of 140 mm diameter can spawn 2.5 million eggs (Fish & Fish, 1996).
Nutrient reserves in the pyloric caeca are an important source of energy for the process of gametogenesis and therefore food supply in the summer preceding spawning (when nutrients are deposited in the pyloric caeca) is an important factor determining fecundity (Jangoux & van Impe, 1977; Oudejans et al., 1979) (see adult distribution, additional information).
Larval settling time
Asterias rubens undergoes a complicated and protracted metamorphosis in the pelagic zone (see larval general biology). Advanced brachiolaria larvae reach a form when they are ready to settle around 87 days after fertilization, but some specimens have been observed, under laboratory conditions, to remain in the plankton for > 100 days without losing the ability to settle eventually and complete metamorphosis (see larval general biology & distribution) (Barker & Nichols, 1983).
Gonad parasitisation
In free spawning echinoderms the factors affecting larval production and survival ultimately control their reproductive success. Male Asterias rubens and Asterias vulgaris are liable to gonad parasitisation by the ciliate parasite Orchitophrya stellarum (Vevers, 1951; Bouland & Claereboudt, 1994). Orchitophrya stellarum causes complete atrophy of the testes leading to castration. The occurrence of the parasite is strictly seasonal and is only found between January and May when the hosts' testes are ripening or ripe. All that remains after the parasitic infection are the thick shrunken sheaths of the original testis tubules (Vevers, 1951). Infected males also show very weak carotenoid pigmentation and a general flabbiness of the body lacking the fresh turgid appearance of a healthy specimen (Nichols & Barker, 1984).
In a parasitized population of Asterias vulgaris from Canada, Bouland & Claereboudt (1994) observed a lower abundance of males, which were small in size and had a reduced gonadal index (gonadal mass/body wall mass) in comparison with the females. These observations implied an overall drop in spermatozoa production at the population level, thus parasitism of the male testes has implications for recruitment. In a turbulent flow as found in most benthic habitats, the success of fertilization is limited by the concentration of gametes. With fewer spawning males in the population, the fertilization rate will drop rapidly leading to a virtual sterilisation. The contribution of a parasitised population to the species reproductive effort would be negligible since the same number of planktonic predators and other adverse factors would be acting upon a reduced number of gametes.
A population of Asterias rubens on the Outer Grounds of the Eddystone, English Channel, was found to have >20% of males parasitised with Orchitophrya stellarum in March 1947. Although the evidence was speculative, a reduction in the population of Asterias rubens in the locality was subsequently observed in 1948, 1949 and 1950 as compared to 1947 (Vevers, 1951).

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Physical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
High High Moderate Low
Asterias rubens is benthic and although able to migrate by crawling up to a distance of 150-200 m per month or 5-7 m daily (Dare, 1982), it is not considered sufficiently mobile to avoid the physical removal of the substratum to which it is attached and a high intolerance rank is given. Recoverability, see additional information.
Low Very high Very Low Low
Asterias rubens is a mobile species with a high degree of body flexibility. It may be found upon sandy substrata that can be stirred up by gales e.g. Schäfer (1972) reported the smothering of Asterias rubens and Astropecten irregularis in the North Sea by sand stirred up by gales. However, the benchmark for this factor is smothering by sediment up to a depth of 5 cm and it is likely that Asterias rubens would have little difficulty in crawling out from beneath 5 cm of sediment and an intolerance rank of low is given. However, Asterias rubens is likely to have a higher intolerance if smothered by impermeable or viscous material such as oil. Uptake of oxygen is through the tube feet and across the body wall, so smothering by viscous material is likely to cause death by suffocation.
Low High Low Moderate
Asterias rubens appears able to flourish in naturally turbid conditions, such as the north-east coast of England (P.G. Moore, personal observation) and River Crouch (Mistakidis, 1951 in Moore, 1977). Greve & Kinne (1971) noted that Asterias rubens would cleanse itself of adhering mud particles by secreting mucus (Moore, 1977). However, Zafiriou et al., (1972) suggested that the behaviour of starfish may be modified by variations in suspended material. They found an apparent lessening in intensity of approach response of Asterias rubens to soluble oyster homogenate in turbid water. The disruption of feeding activity has implications for recruitment. Nutrient reserves in the pyloric caeca are an important source of energy for the process of gametogenesis and therefore the acquisition of food in the summer preceding spawning is an important factor in determining fecundity and consequently species viability. In light of this evidence a low intolerance is given.
No information
High High Moderate Low
Asterias rubens has a large surface area : volume ratio and is relatively soft bodied so if stranded and continually exposed to air and sunshine for one hour would be prone to desiccation. Large numbers of dead starfish have been recorded after displacement and stranding upon the shore presumably from desiccation (see wave exposure) However, when migrating inshore to feed Asterias rubens seeks the damp underside of substrata which offer a degree of protection from direct sunlight and drying wind.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
Asterias rubens is sufficiently mobile e.g. having the ability to move inshore to feed with the tide and retreating seawards with the tide, to avoid adverse factors such as desiccation, associated with a change in the emergence regime of a coastal area. The food resources of Asterias rubens generally extend lower down the shore than the intertidal so the acquisition of food is unlikely to be a problem.
No information
Intermediate High Low Low
An increased water flow rate scours the substrata over which it flows and can cause displacement of epibenthic species such as Asterias rubens. Thorpe & Spencer (2000) described a mass stranding of Asterias rubens on the Isle of Man (see wave exposure) and increased water flow rates would probably be a contributing factor in causing the stranding of this species. Smaller starfish appear to be more prone to displacement during storm conditions (Thorpe & Spencer, 2000) and starfish in shallower coastal waters are likely to experience the highest bottom water velocities so an intermediate intolerance is recorded. Recoverability, see additional information below.
No information
High High Moderate Moderate
The geographic range of Asterias rubens illustrates that the species is tolerant of a range of temperatures and probably becomes locally adapted. The following observations of the response of Asterias rubens to changes in temperature have been reported:
  1. The response of Asterias rubens to prolonged exposure to unusually high temperatures is arm shedding (autotomy) then death (Schäfer, 1972).
  2. Starfish have also been found dead in isolated rock pools during prolonged emersion in calm hot weather, the suspected cause of death being increased water temperature (references in Lawrence, 1995).
  3. Feeding activity of Asterias rubens may also be disrupted by temperature changes. Feeding activity of Asterias rubens declines during cold winters and hot summers. For instance, Anger et al. (1977), described how turbulence within the water column caused destruction of a thermocline and allowed the temperature of the bottom water to increase to 16-18°C causing a decrease in the feeding activity of Asterias rubens. The disruption of feeding activity has implications for recruitment. Nutrient reserves in the pyloric caeca are an important source of energy for the process of gametogenesis and therefore the acquisition of food in the summer preceding spawning is an important factor in determining fecundity (Jangoux & Van Impe, 1977; Oudejans et al. 1979).
Recoverability, see additional information below.
Low High Low Moderate
The geographic range of Asterias rubens illustrates that the species is tolerant of a range of temperatures and probably becomes locally adapted.
Asterias rubens was reported to be unaffected by the severe winter of 1962-1963 in Britain when anomalously low temperatures persisted for two months (Crisp, 1964).
Low Very high Very Low Low
Asterias rubensis likely to have poor visual perception and consequently is probably tolerant of changes in turbidity. Asterias rubens is carnivorous and not directly dependent on phytoplankton, which have a requirement for light. However, many of its prey species are e.g. Mytilus edulis. Thus an increase in turbidity may consequently reduce the availability and nutritional value of its food resource. Food availability is one of the main factors controlling growth and fecundity in Asterias rubens as nutrient reserves stored in the pyloric caeca are drawn upon for gametogenesis (Jangoux & Van Impe, 1977; Oudejans et al. 1979). Recovery may be very rapid once food availability increases.
No information
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Severe storms produce wave scour that can displace and strand populations of Asterias rubens. Storms can generate strong water motion to considerable depths and affect offshore populations (Lawrence, 1995). Thorpe & Spencer (2000) described a mass stranding of Asterias rubens upon the northern shore of the Isle of Man. In total between 6000 and 10,000 particularly small (5-10 cm in diameter) starfish were washed up on shore. Very few larger (15-25 cm in diameter) starfish were found. The stranding coincided with a major spring tide (9.3 m at Liverpool) and a period of prolonged north easterly and easterly winds up to Force 5 blowing on to the exposed shore, so that a large swell developed. It is thought that the combination of those factors created turbulence in the shallow inshore area and caused displacement of the smaller starfish; once displaced they were unable to reattach to the substratum and were swept ashore. In light of this evidence it is likely that smaller specimens of Asterias rubens will be more intolerant of increased wave exposure than larger specimens at the benchmark level. Recoverability, see additional information.
Low High Low Low
Decreased wave exposure is unlikely to have an effect on Asterias rubens except in enclosed areas where deoxygenation might occur in unmixed waters.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Not relevant
There is little known about the effects of underwater sound on marine invertebrates.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Not relevant
Asterias rubens does not have the visual acuity to perceive objects not normally found in the marine environment and is considered not sensitive to this factor.
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Asterias rubens are likely to be damaged by physical abrasion, especially removal of arms or damage to superficial tissue. However, starfish exhibit good powers of regeneration and the remaining starfish and even detached arms are likely to survive. For example, Asterias rubens can regenerate an arm within 1-2 years (Emson & Wilkie, 1980). An intolerance of low is suggested. Although individuals can survive loss of one or more arms, the viability of a population with a high index of arm damage (see importance, demersal fishing impacts) may be reduced as nutritional resources stored in the pyloric caeca are used for repair and growth at the expense of gametogenesis.
Low Immediate Not sensitive Moderate
Anchorage in starfish is by suckered tube feet. The effectiveness of the tube feet attaching the individual to the substratum is primarily a function of the number of tube feet (Lawrence, 1987). Thus smaller starfish may be more susceptible to displacement e.g. by waves or water flow in storm conditions, than larger specimens. Asterias rubens demonstrates a rapid (< 15 seconds) 'self-righting' behaviour if displaced and left upturned upon the substratum by twisting two alternate arms in order to bring its tube feet back onto surfaces for attachment (Russell-Hunter, 1979). Thus intolerance of Asterias rubens to displacement at the benchmark level is considered to be low as it is able to 'self-right' itself and reattach to suitable substrata immediately.

Chemical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
Intermediate High Low Low
Little documentation concerning the biological effects of synthetic chemicals on echinoderms in coastal areas exists, but starfish are known to concentrate synthetic chemicals. Knickemeyer et al. (1992) found that differences in adsorption and accumulation of polychlorinated biphenyl cogeners in starfish could be explained by the pattern of chlorine substitution. Pentachloro- to heptachloro- biphenyls with adjacent substituted carbons and those with 2,4,5-chlorine substitution were bioaccumulated. Distinct seasonal changes in organochlorine contamination could also be attributed to lipid content fluctuation accompanying reproduction and food availability. Limited evidence exists of the biological effects of synthetic chemical exposure but Besten, et al. (1989) reported that exposure of Asterias rubens to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) resulted in production of defective offspring and an intolerance of intermediate is recorded as the viability of the species was affected.
Heavy metal contamination
Intermediate High Low High
Temara et al., (1997) found that heavy metals are selectively distributed among body components of Asterias rubens: Hg concentrations were significantly higher in the pyloric caeca (0.15 µmg Hg g-1 dry weight) and the gonads (0.12 µmg Hg g-1); Zn, Cd, Fe and Cu were high in the pyloric caeca, whilst Pb was significantly more concentrated in the skeleton (8.73 µmg Pb g-1 dry weight). The affinity of Pb for calcite is high and Pb is readily adsorbed to the skeleton of echinoderms. In starfish toxic effects of Pb could come directly from its incorporation into the skeleton or could influence other metabolic pathways and exert an indirect deleterious effect on the species (Temara, et al., 1997). For instance, Pb adsorption occurs actively on the growing parts of the skeleton, where it could reduce skeletogenesis as Pb is one of the most effective inhibitors of calcite dissolution/precipitation kinetics (Morse, 1986).
Heavy metals have also been reported to effect gametogenesis and early larval development in the starfish Asterias rubens. For example, Besten et al., (1991) examined the effects of cadmium on the gametogenesis in females of Asteria rubens, after short term exposure (5 weeks) to 200 µmg Cd l-1 and long term (7 months) exposure to 25 µmg Cd l-1 under semi-natural conditions. It became evident that a short term exposure to 200 µmg Cd l-1 affected gametogensis by reducing ovary growth. The early phase of gametogenesis was also found to be more susceptible to Cd exposure as experiments starting in February has less effect on ovary growth than those commencing in December. The long term exposure of female Asterias rubens to 25 µmg Cd l-1 caused a delay in ovary growth which was evident after 5 months. The oocytes from cadmium exposed females have also been shown to produce defective offspring (Besten, et al., 1989). The aberrations were shown to occur at relatively low exposure levels, and the Cd concentrations found within the body of experimentally (long term) exposed Asterias rubens could also be found within specimens fed with mussels from polluted sites, such as the Dutch Western Scheldt. Consequently, Besten, et al., (1991) concluded that cadmium pollution poses a considerable threat to populations of Asterias rubens in terms of recruitment success.
LC50concentrations exceeding 0.1 mg Cu l-1, 1 mg Zn l-1 and 10 mg Cr l-1 for a duration between 4 -14 days of exposure have been reported for echinoderm species (Table 5.12, Crompton, 1997).
Hydrocarbon contamination
High High Moderate High
Asterias rubens is intolerant of hydrocarbon pollution:
  • Bokn et al., (1993) examined of the long term effects of the water-accommodated fraction (WAF) of diesel oil on rocky shore populations. Two doses (average hydrocarbon concentration in diesel oil equivalents; High: = 129.4 µmg l-1, and Low = 30.1 µmg l-1) of WAF of diesel oil were delivered via sea water to established rocky shore mesocosms over a two year period. The numbers of Asterias rubens decreased at all tidal levels (even in the control mesocosms during the study) and Asterias rubens disappeared entirely from upper sublittoral samples in the mesocosm receiving a high dose of WAF diesel oil suggesting a negative effect upon this species caused by the high dose treatment.
  • Crude oil from the Torrey Canyon in 1967 off Land's End of Cornwall, and the detergent used to disperse it caused mass mortalities of echinoderms; Asterias rubens, Echinocardium cordatum, Psammechinus miliaris, Echinus esculentus, Marthasterias glacialis and Acrocnida brachiata (Smith, 1968). However, Asterias rubens was found to be fairly resistant to the oil dispersant used, BP1002. A concentration of BP1002 at 25 ppm was required in toxicity tests to kill 50% of Asterias rubens within 24 hours (Smith, 1968).
  • Radionuclide contamination
    No information No information No information Very low
    Plutonium in seawater has a strong affinity for the mucus-rich epidermal layer of starfish which contributes to the relatively high levels of this radionuclide measured in these invertebrates. Guary et al., (1982) measured the body burden of 239Pu 240Pu and 238Pu and found 94.5% and 95.6% respectively of the total body burden in the body wall of Asterias rubens. It became apparent that in the environment the water pathway predominates in the uptake of radionuclides by asteroids as the body wall is in constant contact with the transferring medium. However, there is insufficient information on the biological effects of radionuclides to comment further on the intolerance of this species to radionuclide contamination.
    Changes in nutrient levels
    Low High Low Moderate
    A population of Asterias rubens may benefit indirectly from an increased nutrient availability because major food items such as mussels filter feed upon phytoplankton and increase in abundance following nutrient enrichment. In combination with other factors an aggregation of feeding starfish may result (see adult distribution). However, an excess of nutrients (eutrophication) facilitating a high pelagic production, in combination with thermal stratification of the water column during summer is likely to cause hypoxia and starfish mortality (see oxygenation) (Josefson & Rosenberg, 1988; Rosenberg & Loo, 1988, Rosenberg et al., 1992). Extensive mortality of benthic populations including Asterias rubens was reported by Bokn et al., (1990) in response to hypoxic conditions caused by a toxic algal bloom of Chrysochromulina polylepsis along the Norwegian coast. However, these adverse effects are indirect and are only likely to occur in extreme situations. Intolerance directly to increased nutrient levels is assessed as low.
    High High Moderate Moderate
    Echinoderms are stenohaline owing to the lack of an excretory organ and a poor ability to osmo- and ion-regulate. The inability of echinoderms to osmoregulate extracellularly causes body fluid volume to increase or decrease when individuals are transferred to lower or higher external salinity respectively, e.g. a sudden inflow of river water into an inshore coastal area caused mass mortality of the conspecific species Asterias vulgaris at Prince Edward Island, Canada (Smith, 1940, in Lawrence, 1995).
    No information
    High High Moderate High
    Asterias rubens is an aerobic organism and oxygen uptake is by the tube feet and across the body wall. Hypoxic conditions can occur within the habitat of Asterias rubens owing to current changes, thermal stratification of the overlying water column and eutrophication. Theede et al., (1969) undertook experiments on the survival capacity of marine bottom invertebrates in oxygen deficient and hydrogen sulphide (H2S) containing seawater at 10°C. The duration of exposure survived by 50% of Asterias rubens exposed to oxygen deficient seawater (0.15 ml O2l-1 = 0.2 mg 02l-1) was 84 hours. In the presence of H2S (50 mg Na2S.9H2O L-1) the resistance of Asterias rubens to oxygen deficient water dropped to 67 hours, thus it is likely that this species would not survive a week of hypoxic conditions.

    Biological pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
    Intermediate High Low High
    Factors affecting larval production and survival ultimately control the reproductive success of Asterias rubens. Male Asterias rubens and the conspecific starfish Asterias vulgaris are liable to gonad parasitisation by the ciliate parasite Orchitophrya stellarum (Vevers, 1951; Bouland & Claereboudt, 1994).
    Orchitophrya stellarum causes complete atrophy of the testes leading to castration.
    The parasite is only found between January and May when the hosts' testes are ripening or ripe. All that remains after the parastitic infection are the thick shrunken sheaths of the original testis tubules (Vevers, 1951). Infected males also show very weak carotenoid pigmentation and a general flabbiness of the body which lacks the fresh turgid appearance of a healthy specimen (Nichols & Barker, 1984).
    In a parasitized population of Asterias vulgaris from Canada, Bouland & Claereboudt (1994) observed a lower abundance of males, which were small in size and had a reduced gonadal index (gonadal mass/body wall mass) in comparison with the females. These observations implied an overall drop in spermatozoa production at the population level, thus parasitism of the male testes has implications for recruitment. In a turbulent flow as found in most benthic habitats, the success of fertilization is limited by the concentration of gametes. With fewer spawning males in the population the fertilization rate will drop rapidly leading to a virtual sterilisation. The contribution of a parasitised population to the species reproductive effort would be negligible since the same number of planktonic predators and other adverse factors would be acting upon a reduced number of gametes.
    A population of Asterias rubens on the Outer Grounds of the Eddystone, English Channel, was found to have > 20% of males parasitised with Orchitophrya stellarum in March 1947. Although the evidence was speculative, a reduction in the population of Asterias rubens in the locality was subsequently observed in 1948, 1949 and 1950 as compared to 1947 (Vevers, 1951).
    However, Asterias rubens is a widespread and fecund species(> 1.5 million eggs per female) that reproduces annually and has long lived pelagic larvae (> 80 days), which have a high dispersal potential and are able to settle upon a variety of benthic substrates (Clark & Downey, 1992). Larval production by one population may influence settlement some considerable distance away, while not affecting the original population (Morgan, 1995). Consequently, it may take more than one or two generations for a population to return to a pre-impact state, but recoverability is considered to be high.
    No information No information No information Not relevant
    No evidence has been found of competition with or predation by non-native species affecting Asterias rubens in Britain and Northern Ireland.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
    Asterias rubens is not a targeted species for harvest, but it is frequently a component of commercial fishing activity by-catch (see extraction of other species).
    Low High Low Moderate
    Fishing activities increase the input of carrion to benthic communities (Ramsay et al., 2000). The starfish Asterias rubens is an opportunistic scavenger that has been shown to gain extra food by foraging in fished areas upon damaged and displaced bivalves, gastropods, crustaceans and other echinoderms (Ramsay et al., 1998) and also feeds on fisheries discards (Ramsay et al., 1997; Lindeboom & de Groot 1998). Some studies have demonstrated that scavengers can gain more food by foraging in areas disturbed by fishing activity than in nearby unfished areas. Diver observations of fished and adjacent unfished areas have shown that the proportion of starfish Asterias rubens was higher in the fished area for up to 44 hours after fishing had taken place (Ramsay et al., 1998). There is some evidence that numbers of Asterias rubens have increased in the southern North Sea over the past 80 years, which may be linked to the effects of beam trawling in terms of subsidising the food supply to adults (Lindeboom & de Groot, 1998). However, benthic scavengers such as Asterias rubens are damaged by fishing activities themselves. Mechanical abrasion can induce autotomy (see abrasion) and Asterias rubens may constitute a proportion of the discarded non-commercial by-catch. The survival of discards depends on a number of factors, such as time spent in the cod end of the net, the time spent on board ship exposed to desiccating factors and the composition of the by-catch (e.g. a large proportion of debris will increase mortality rates). Overall taking account of the importance of discards as a source of food and the resilience of Asterias rubens to physical impact, fishing activity may favour populations of Asterias rubens and an intolerance assessment of low is given.

    Additional information

    Recoverability of Asterias rubens is likely to be high as it is widespread throughout shallow (< 600 m) areas of the North Atlantic. It is a fecund species (> 1.5 million eggs per female) that reproduces annually with long lived pelagic larva (> 80 days), that have a high dispersal potential and are able to settle upon a variety of benthic substrata (Clark & Downey, 1992). However, larval production by one population may influence settlement some considerable distance away (Morgan, 1995), while not affecting the original population, so consequently it may take more than one or two generations for a population to return to a pre-impact state.

    Importance review

    Policy/legislation

    - no data -

    Status

    National (GB) importance-Global red list (IUCN) category-

    Non-native

    Native-
    Origin- Date ArrivedNot relevant.

    Importance information

    Ecosystem importance
    Asterias rubens is of considerable negative economic importance, as it is a voracious consumer of the marketable shellfish Mytilus edulis (Hancock, 1958). Asterias rubens can influence the lower limit of the distribution of Mytilus edulis. Seed (1969) reported that Asterias rubens and Nucella lapillus eliminated mussels from the lower intertidal along a shore line on the east coast of England.

    Fishing Impacts
    Starfish such as Asterias rubens sustain damage to varying degrees as demersal trawls pass over them or when they pass into the cod end of fishing nets. However, they are quite resilient and probably suffer low mortality because of their regenerative abilities following autotomy of one or several arms. Kaiser (1996) collected specimens of Asterias rubens and Astropecten irregularis from areas of the Irish Sea that were subjected to different intensities of commercial beam trawling. The incidence of starfish, of both species, with damaged or regenerating arms increased with increased fishing intensity, as did the severity (number of regenerating arms) of damage. The proportion of starfish with damaged or regenerating arms may provide a useful short-term (1-2 years) biological indicator of physical disturbance by demersal fishing gear.

    Metal pollution bioindicator species
    The use of Asterias rubens as a reference species to monitor changes of marine heavy metal pollution has been examined as heavy metals are selectively distributed among the body compartments of Asterias rubens (Temara et al., 1997) (see adult heavy metal sensitivity). Temara et al., (1998) examined the contamination of Asterias rubens along spatial gradients of Pb, Cd and Zn identified in the Sørfjord, southwest Norway. They concluded that Asterias rubens appeared to be a valuable bioindicator of spatial and temporal trends of Pb and Cd contamination in the field, and that it appeared possible to differentiate the skeleton as a long-term bioindicator from the pyloric caeca as a short-term bioindicator

    Curio use
    Echinoderms such as Asterias rubens lend themselves excellently for preservation in a dried state.

    Harvested targeted use
    Asterias rubens has been commercially fished for fertiliser (Mortensen, 1927; Schäfer,1972).

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    Citation

    This review can be cited as:

    Budd, G.C. 2008. Asterias rubens Common starfish. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/1194

    Last Updated: 08/05/2008