Tiny fish a big lure for life on coral reefs

May 23, 2019

Researchers from Simon Fraser University have discovered how coral reefs support such an abundance and diversity of life. Banting Postdoctoral Fellow Simon Brandl and a team of international researchers revealed that tiny fish species around the world fuel life on coral reefs.

The research, published in Science, examines how commonly overlooked 'cryptobenthic' fishes--tiny, bottom-dwelling creatures--are a bountiful food source for larger fishes.

"These fish are like candy," says Brandl. "They are tiny, colorful bundles of energy that get eaten almost immediately by any coral reef organism that can bite, grab or slurp them up."

"In fact, the vast majority of tiny fish on reefs are eaten within the first few weeks of their existence."

The researchers examined the larvae of reef fish, which normally undertake long journeys across the open ocean to find a home. Few of them survive. Tiny fish larvae, however, appear to avoid this migration and stay close to their parents' reefs.

"Tiny fish larvae absolutely dominate the larval communities near reefs," says Brandl. "Our data shows that these fish get a lot more bang for their buck with every egg they spawn--probably because they avoid the death trap of the open ocean."

The behaviour allows adult tiny fish populations to create a steady stream of babies that rapidly replaces each adult tiny fish that is devoured on the reef.

"This conveyor belt supplies almost 60 per cent of all consumed fish flesh on reefs, but we never see it because the fish get eaten much faster than we could ever count them," says Brandl. "It's essentially a bag of candy that magically replenishes every morsel eaten."

The research has important implications for the preservation of coral reefs.

"Coral reefs around the world are undergoing dramatic declines," says Isabelle Côté, SFU biological sciences professor and co-author of the paper. "With this research, we can help focus conservation efforts on protecting the fuel for the bustling fish communities that underpin reefs and their immense value to people."
-end-
Simon Fraser University
University Communications
778.782.3210 http://www.sfu.ca/university-communications

Contact:

Ian Bryce, University Communications and Marketing, 604-773-8134, ian_bryce@sfu.ca

Simon Brandl, Biological Sciences, 604-348-6423, simonjbrandl@gmail.com

Isabelle Côté, Biological Sciences, 778-836-6222, imcote@sfu.ca

Photos: http://at.sfu.ca/QiEZYb

Simon Fraser University

Related Coral Reefs Articles from Brightsurf:

The cement for coral reefs
Coral reefs are hotspots of biodiversity. As they can withstand heavy storms, they offer many species a safe home.

Palau's coral reefs: a jewel of the ocean
The latest report from the Living Oceans Foundation finds Palau's reefs had the highest coral cover observed on the Global Reef Expedition--the largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history.

Shedding light on coral reefs
New research published in the journal Coral Reefs generates the largest characterization of coral reef spectral data to date.

Uncovering the hidden life of 'dead' coral reefs
'Dead' coral rubble can support more animals than live coral, according to University of Queensland researchers trialling a high-tech sampling method.

Collaboration is key to rebuilding coral reefs
The most successful and cost-effective ways to restore coral reefs have been identified by an international group of scientists, after analyzing restoration projects in Latin America.

Coral reefs show resilience to rising temperatures
Rising ocean temperatures have devastated coral reefs all over the world, but a recent study in Global Change Biology has found that reefs in the Eastern Tropical Pacific region may prove to be an exception.

Genetics could help protect coral reefs from global warming
The research provides more evidence that genetic-sequencing can reveal evolutionary differences in reef-building corals that one day could help scientists identify which strains could adapt to warmer seas.

Tackling coral reefs' thorny problem
Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have revealed the evolutionary history of the crown-of-thorns starfish -- a predator of coral that can devastate coral reefs.

The state of coral reefs in the Solomon Islands
The ''Global Reef Expedition: Solomon Islands Final Report'' summarizes the foundation's findings from a monumental research mission to study corals and reef fish in the Solomon Islands and provides recommendations on how to preserve these precious ecosystems into the future.

Mysterious glowing coral reefs are fighting to recover
A new study by the University of Southampton has revealed why some corals exhibit a dazzling colorful display, instead of turning white, when they suffer 'coral bleaching' -- a condition which can devastate reefs and is caused by ocean warming.

Read More: Coral Reefs News and Coral Reefs Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.