Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


W.M. Keck Science Department

Second Department


Reader 1

Sarah Gilman

Reader 2

Marion Preest

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2013 Laura Grossman


The causes of increasing outbreaks of Acanthaster planci on the Great Barrier Reef have been a point of hot debate in recent years. It is unknown whether the increased success is due to nutrient runoff, salinity levels, or a decrease in predation, among other possibilities. In this paper I argue that the primary influence on outbreak status is sea surface temperature. From existing literature, I demonstrate that sea surface temperature in the Great Barrier Reef has increased by 0.4°C per year over the past three decades. I attempt to tie this increase with an increase in frequency of A. planci outbreaks on a selection of reefs throughout the Great Barrier Reef region. Due to the development of A. planci, specifically the fact that it takes them between 2 and 3 years to reach full maturity, I examined the potential relationship between an outbreak and the sea surface temperature 1 and 2 years before the event. Through my exploration of the data and my subsequent data analysis, it is clear that there are no statistically significant results when comparing the three classifications of outbreak (active, incipient, and recovering) and not outbreaking populations with temperature at each of the three time relationships. However, when I considered the three stages of outbreak to be “affected” and those not outbreaking to be “unaffected”, I found a statistically significant relationship. This finding has important implications when looking at the temperature changes that have been predicted for the Great Barrier Reef region due to global climate change. If the water temperature continues to increase, A. planci will more often be living within their optimal temperature range and will be more successful, continue to have major outbreaks that devastate the reef ecosystem, and eventually destroy it all together.