They studied Acropora nasuta, a species in a genus of coral important to reef ecosystems because it grows rapidly and provides much of the structure for reefs. To threaten the coral, the researchers moved filaments of Chlorodesmis fastigiata, a species of seaweed that is particularly chemically toxic to corals, into contact with the coral. Within a few minutes of the seaweed contacting the coral, two species of gobies Gobidon histrio and Paragobidon enchinocephalus moved toward the site of contact and began neatly trimming away the offending seaweed.
"These little fish would come out and mow the seaweed off so it didn't touch the coral," said Hay, who holds the Harry and Linda Teasley Chair in Environmental Biology at Georgia Tech. "This takes place very rapidly, which means it must be very important to both the coral and the fish. The coral releases a chemical and the fish respond right away."
In corals occupied by the gobies, the amount of offending seaweed declined 30 percent over a three-day period, and the amount of damage to the coral declined by 70 to 80 percent. Control corals that had no gobies living with them had no change in the amount of toxic seaweed and were badly damaged by the seaweed.
To determine what was attracting the fish, Dixson and Hay collected samples of water from locations (1) near the seaweed by itself, (2) where the seaweed was contacting the coral, and (3) from coral that had been in contact with the seaweed 20 minutes after the seaweed had been removed. They released the samples near other corals that hosted gobies, which were attracted to the samples taken f
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Georgia Institute of Technology Research News