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: Silicon: An important element in rice production

Related Stories

First invasive lionfish discovered in Brazil

17 hours ago

A single fish caught with a hand spear off the Brazilian coast is making big waves across the entire southwestern Atlantic. In May 2014, a group of recreational divers spotted an adult lionfish—the voracious ...

Arran reserve reveals marine protection works

Apr 15, 2015

Last summer, on the Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland, we watched an excited young lad walking down to the water's edge, fishing rod in hand. Sadly, his chances of catching anything were slim ...

Diving for data on fish populations

Apr 10, 2015

Famed explorer Jacques Cousteau was a pioneer in underwater diving technology, a founding figure of the modern conservation movement, and a man who inspired generations of marine scientists. Today, one of ...

Recipe for saving coral reefs: Add more fish

Apr 08, 2015

Fish are the key ingredients in a new recipe to diagnose and restore degraded coral reef ecosystems, according to scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, WCS, James Cook University, and ...

Recommended for you

Silicon: An important element in rice production

1 hour ago

Silicon (Si) is the second most abundant element of the earth's crust after oxygen. It has long been neglected by ecologists, as it is not considered an essential nutrient for plants. However, research of ...

New blueberry species found in the Colombian forests

1 hour ago

The description of five new species of blueberry relatives from Colombia highlights the country's great diversity of the plant family Ericaceae and the importance of field exploration. These new mortiños, as loc ...

A CRISPR antiviral tool

2 hours ago

Emory scientists have adapted an antiviral enzyme from bacteria called Cas9 into an instrument for inhibiting hepatitis C virus in human cells.

Researchers find proteins responsible for orchid shape

2 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with National Chung Hsing University in China has found the proteins responsible for determining the shape of orchid lips. In their paper published in the journal Nature Pl ...

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.