Parrotfish Are Savers of Coral Reefs
A new study revealed the compelling role of parrotfish in saving Caribbean coral reefs from total degradation.
The study headed Smithsonian scientists revealed that parrotfish, which eat the algae that can smother corals, are vital to coral-reef health.
With this new finding, the scientists support the call that parrotfish conservation be made a priority for the recovery and persistence of Caribbean coral reefs. This entails protecting parrotfish from overfishing as well.
The Study and Key Results
The key findings were based on the compiled 3,000 years of change in reefs in the western Caribbean by Smithsonian scientists and colleagues.
To delve into the vital role of parrotfish in conserving the reef, the team of scientists extracted cores from reefs in Panama’s Bocas Del Toro archipelago and identified thousands of exquisitely preserved parrotfish teeth in slices representing different time periods.
Through the use of advanced uranium-thorium to date these segments, researchers show that when parrotfish were more common, the reef grew faster.
These new findings were confirmed by Aaron O’Dea, a co-author of the study and scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who said, “This fossil record of reefs provides evidence that parrotfishes were actually causing faster reef growth, rather than the other way round, or the two simply being driven by a third factor.”
O’Dea added, “Because of this intimate causal relationship between parrotfishes and healthier reefs, we support the call that parrotfish conservation be made a priority for the recovery and persistence of Caribbean coral reefs.”
Sea Urchins vs Parrotfish
A previous study revealed the vital role of long-spined sea urchin Diadema, which also eats algae, in maintaining reef.
However, the recent study by Smithsonian scientists led by Caitlin Kuempel and Andrew Altieri finds that the role of these smaller urchins in maintaining reef health in the past was minimal.
When compared to sea urchins like Diadema, parrotfish especially when abundant in number, make the coral reef healthier and grow faster.
This new discovery was confirmed by the recent study of Katie Cramer, who conducted the Panama portion of the research while a Smithsonian MarineGEO post-doctoral fellow.
Cramer said, “These findings reveal that parrotfish indeed have a positive and critical role in coral health, a hotly debated issue in coral reef research that cannot be resolved with studies of modern reefs which have already been greatly altered by human activities.”