Elucidation of the speciation history of three sister species of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.) based on genomic analysis

Hideaki Yuasa, Rei Kajitani, Yuta Nakamura, Kazuki Takahashi, Miki Okuno, Fumiya Kobayashi, Takahiro Shinoda, Atsushi Toyoda, Yutaka Suzuki, Nalinee Thongtham, Zac Forsman, Omri Bronstein, Davide Seveso, Enrico Montalbetti, Coralie Taquet, Gal Eyal, Nina Yasuda, Takehiko Itoh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) is a coral predator that is widely distributed in Indo-Pacific Oceans. A previous phylogenetic study using partial mitochondrial sequences suggested that COTS had diverged into four distinct species, but a nuclear genome-based analysis to confirm this was not conducted. To address this, COTS species nuclear genome sequences were analysed here, sequencing Northern Indian Ocean (NIO) and Red Sea (RS) species genomes for the first time, followed by a comparative analysis with the Pacific Ocean (PO) species. Phylogenetic analysis and ADMIXTURE analysis revealed clear divergences between the three COTS species. Furthermore, within the PO species, the phylogenetic position of the Hawaiian sample was further away from the other Pacific-derived samples than expected based on the mitochondrial data, suggesting that it may be a PO subspecies. The pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent model showed that the trajectories of the population size diverged by region during the Mid-Pleistocene transition when the sea-level was dramatically decreased, strongly suggesting that the three COTS species experienced allopatric speciation. Analysis of the orthologues indicated that there were remarkable genes with species-specific positive selection in the genomes of the PO and RS species, which suggested that there may be local adaptations in the COTS species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdsab012
JournalDNA Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • common ancestor
  • coral predator
  • phylogenetic analysis
  • population demographic history
  • three distinct sister species

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine(all)


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