Surface microtopographies of tropical sea stars: lack of an efficient physical defence mechanism against fouling.
ABSTRACT The role of surface topography as a defence against fouling in tropical sea stars was investigated. The sea stars Linckia laevigata, Fromia indica, Cryptasterina pentagona and Archaster typicus are not fouled and have paxillae (modified ossicles with a median vertical pillar) on their aboral surfaces, which varied in diameter, height and distance depending on species and position on the aboral surface, providing unique and complex surface microtopographies for each species. The surfaces of the sea stars L. laevigata, F. indica and A. typicus were moderately wettable, with their mean seawater contact angles, calculated from captive bubble measurements, being 60.1 degrees, 70.3 degrees and 57.3 degrees, respectively. The seawater contact angle of C. pentagona could not be measured. To evaluate the effectiveness of the surface microtopographies in deterring the settlement of fouling organisms, field experiments with resin replicas of the four sea star species were conducted at three sites around Townsville, Australia, for 8 weeks during the dry and wet seasons. The fouling community and total fouling cover did not differ significantly between replicas of L. laevigata, F. indica, C. pentagona, A. typicus and control surfaces at any site during the dry season. Significant differences between fouling communities on the replicas of the sea stars and control surfaces were detected at two sites during the wet season. However, these differences were transitory, and the total fouling cover did not differ significantly between replicas of sea stars and control surfaces at two of the three sites. In contrast to recent literature on the effects of biofouling control by natural surfaces in the marine environment, the surface microtopographies of tropical sea stars alone were not effective in deterring the settlement and growth of fouling organisms.