Can tiny grazers replace coral reefs at Caribbean?
A disease occurred across Caribbean thirty years ago, that affected and almost eliminated coral reefs. Small sea urchins and parrotfish are perhaps replacing the large ones compensating the loss of degraded reefs, reported the marine biologists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).
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Catie Kuempel joined staff scientist Andrew Altieri explored the sea near Bocas del Toro, Panama, where corals died, but small urchins did not replace them. Small urchins also named algal grazers, or Echinometra viridis and the parrotfish of finger size is also in this category.
The researchers proposed that these tiny gazers are able to transform from coral to algae. Though, they are very small but they are in high quantity, making 95 percent of biomass of grazing organisms. In a combined form their weight is equal to a small number of large herbivores on healthy reefs.
The research also found that in most areas with degraded reefs, heavy grazing occurred by sea urchins and parrotfish. The researcher placed cages on sea floor to separate grazers, but only small herbivores were permitted to pass. This study showed that they can also remove algae.
It was found in 1983 that spined black urchins were dying near Atlantic entrance at Panama Canal. The study was found by STRI staff scientist Harilaos Lessios.
At that time the phenomenon of algae could not be noticed. Though, Diadema antillarum is replaced now, but still its only 12 percent of the previous number of urchins in the Caribbean.
According to scientists the recovery is very slow that happened during 30 years, and due to global warming the disease will increase.
But, the researchers are hopeful that certain monitoring strategies and management will prevent the shifts from coral to algae on reefs, and should extend to understand the role of herbivores.