Fish species plays surprise role in aiding coral reef recovery

Dec 18, 2006

In a study that marks progress in understanding the basis of coral reef recovery, researchers have revealed the critical importance of a rare batfish, Platax pinnatus, in promoting the return to health of a disturbed coral reef overgrown with algae. The findings bring to light a previously unrecognized role for the batfish species, which had not been considered a significant player in reef recovery after overfishing.

In doing so, the study provides insight into the poorly understood—and potentially complex—forces that influence the state of coral reefs under ecological stress. The work appears in the December 19th issue of the journal Current Biology, published by Cell Press, and is reported by David Bellwood, Terry Hughes, and Andrew Hoey of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

The world’s tropical coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat modification, and global warming. One of the most visible signs of a decline in the condition of coral reefs is the widely documented shift from a healthy state in which corals dominate to a weedy state in which algae (so-called “macro algae") dominate. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that this phase shift can be triggered by a loss of algae-consuming herbivores, especially parrotfishes and surgeonfishes. However, the critical question has remained: How can this coral-algal phase shift be reversed"

By simulating overfishing in large experimental plots on the Great Barrier Reef, the researchers in the new study intentionally triggered a phase shift to algal dominance on a healthy reef. They then filmed the reef’s recovery with remote underwater digital videos cameras. Remarkably, only two of the 27 herbivorous fish species present on the reefs had any significant impact on its recovery from algal overgrowth. What was most surprising was that the dominant browser was a rare batfish, a species previously thought to be an invertebrate feeder. Meanwhile, parrotfishes and surgeonfishes, which are the routine consumers of seaweed on coral reefs, were unable to reverse runaway algal blooms.

The study’s findings highlight the unexpected importance of a single rare species in the recovery of coral reefs, and potentially contribute to the identification and future protection of species groups that underlie the resilience and regenerative capacity of coral reef ecosystems.

Source: Cell Press

Explore further: EU court clears stem cell patenting

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

People finding their 'waze' to once-hidden streets

6 hours ago

When the people whose houses hug the narrow warren of streets paralleling the busiest urban freeway in America began to see bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling by their homes a year or so ago, they were baffled.

Identity theft victims face months of hassle

6 hours ago

As soon as Mark Kim found out his personal information was compromised in a data breach at Target last year, the 36-year-old tech worker signed up for the retailer's free credit monitoring offer so he would ...

Observers slam 'lackluster' Lima climate deal

7 hours ago

A carbon-curbing deal struck in Lima on Sunday was a watered-down compromise where national intransigence threatened the goal of a pact to save Earth's climate system, green groups said.

Your info has been hacked. Now what do you do?

7 hours ago

Criminals stole personal information from tens of millions of Americans in data breaches this past year. Of those affected, one in three may become victims of identity theft, according to research firm Javelin. ...

New Bond script stolen in Sony hack

7 hours ago

An "early version" of the screenplay for the new James Bond film was the latest victim of a massive hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, its producers said in a statement on their website Sunday.

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

12 hours ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

Recommended for you

EU court clears stem cell patenting

35 minutes ago

A human egg used to produce stem cells but unable to develop into a viable embryo can be patented, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

Protections blocked, but sage grouse work goes on

15 hours ago

(AP)—U.S. wildlife officials will decide next year whether a wide-ranging Western bird species needs protections even though Congress has blocked such protections from taking effect, Interior Secretary ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.