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'Fishy lawnmowers' help save Pacific corals
Date:11/10/2011

or of MCR LTER, and associate project scientist with MSI. "We were not simply seeing a case of bigger, fatter fishes we were seeing many more parrotfishes and surgeonfishes, all of whom happened to be bigger and fatter. We wanted to know where these new fishes were coming from."

The researchers also found that not all of the coral reefs around Moorea were affected equally by an outbreak of predatory crown-of-thorns sea stars or by cyclones. The crown-of-thorns sea stars did eat virtually all of the live coral on the barrier reef the reef that separates the shallow lagoons from the deeper ocean. However, neither the sea stars nor the cyclones had much impact on the corals growing on the fringing reef the reef that grows against the island.

"We discovered that these fringing reefs act as a nursery ground for baby fishes, most notably herbivorous fishes," said Brooks. "With more food available in the form of algae, the survivorship of these baby parrotfishes and surgeonfishes increased, providing more individuals to help control the algae on the fore reef. In effect, the large numbers of parrotfishes and surgeonfishes are acting like thousands of fishy lawnmowers, keeping the algae cropped down to levels low enough that there is still space for new baby corals to settle onto the reef and begin to grow."

A major reason the reefs in the Caribbean do not recover after serious disturbances is because these reefs lack healthy populations of parrotfishes and surgeonfishes, due to the effects of overfishing, explained Adam. "Without these species to help crop the algae down, these reefs quickly become overgrown with algae, a situation that makes it very hard for corals to re-establish themselves," he said.

Managers have tried to reverse the trend of overfishing through the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where fishing is severely restricted or prohibited. "Our results suggest that this strategy may not be enough to reverse t
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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