The Health Of Caribbean Coral Reefs Is Linked To Fish Diversity

Source: Phys.org/Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Photo: Claude Piché/Unsplash

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The health of coral reefs can be impacted as much by the diversity of fish that graze on them as by the amount of fish that do so, according to a new study by scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. In the Science Advances paper, the researchers untangle and unveil the powerful effects that biodiversity has on Caribbean coral reefs.

“Scientists have long known that reefs are healthier when a large number, or a ‘high biomass,’ of plant-eating  graze their surfaces,” said Doug Rasher, senior author of the study and a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory. “However, this study revealed that having a diverse portfolio of those fish species on the reef is equally important to keeping reefs well grazed and hospitable to baby corals.”

The findings have significant implications for the management of tropical fisheries. Many herbivores, such as parrotfish and surgeonfish, are eaten by people across the Caribbean. Management plans often focus on sustaining a given number of herbivores on a reef, and not necessarily promoting  within the herbivore community.

As these fish graze, they scrape tiny turf algae and seaweeds from the reef, keeping spaces free of algae and primed for the settlement of baby corals. This grazing is especially important following reef disturbances, such as hurricanes and coral bleaching events.

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Photo: Claude Piché/Unsplash

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