Varsha Balu - AIMS@JCU

Varsha Balu

varshavivek.balu@my.jcu.edu.au

Masters by coursework
College of Science and Engineering

Varsha Balu

varshavivek.balu@my.jcu.edu.au

Masters by coursework
College of Science and Engineering
Non-Invasive Detection of Invertebrate Predation on Juvenile Crown-of-Thorns Seastars

Varsha was born in India and spent most of her childhood aspiring to be a marine
biologist. After having completed an Undergraduate degree majoring in Biotechnology,
Chemistry and Zoology, she decided to pursue her passion for all things under the
sea! She took up a Masters in Marine Biology and Ecology with a research focus on
Crown-ofThorns Seastars at AIMS.

Non-Invasive Detection of Invertebrate Predation on Juvenile Crown-of-Thorns Seastars

2018 to 2018

Project Description

With this project, Varsha aims to identify more common coral reef predators of
juvenile Crown-of Thorns Seastars to address the knowledge gap on post-settlement
juvenile CoTS. Varsha also aims to esrtablish a genetic technique that enables her to
detect predation on juvenile CoTs using a non-invasive genetic technique. She
collected predator faeces from the water column to detect predation using a predeveloped
CoTS specific primer.

Project Importance

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s biggest assets as a keystone for tourism
and the economy. In the last 30 years, about 50% of the coral cover on the GBR was
lost and about half of this loss has been attributed to Crown-of-Thorns Seastar
outbreaks. There is a vast knowledge gap on predation at post-settlement and larval
stages of these CoTS and identifying more predators and detection predation noninvasively
could help manage outbreak populations in the future.

Project Methods

Varsha collected common reef invertebrates from tanks at AIMS, and
offered juvenile CoTS as prey. She scored predation and detected
this predation using non-invasive genetic methods enabled by predeveloped
CoTS primers and visualizing them on Agarose gels.

Project Results

The most exciting result so far has been the discovery of a new
potential predator of juvenile Crown-of-Thorns Seastars, that
had not been recognized as a predator previously. The ability to
detect predation non-invasively using pre-developed CoTS
primers has also been rather exciting.

Keywords

Cetaceans,
Coral reefs,
Crown of Thorn Starfish,
Distribution,
Echinoderms,
Ecology,
Field based,
Genetics,
Interaction,
Management tools,
Manipulative experiments,
Molecular techniques

Supervised By:

Vanessa Messmer (JCU)

Sven Uthicke (AIMS)

Jason Doyle (AIMS)