Environment

Crunching on Coral

You might not think an animal made out of stone would have much to worry about in the way of predators, and that’s largely what scientists had thought about coral.

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Although corallivores like parrotfish and pufferfish are well known to biologists, their impact on coral growth and survival was believed to be small compared to factors like heatwaves, ocean acidification and competition from algae.

But researchers at UC Santa Barbara have found that young corals are quite vulnerable to these predators, regardless of whether a colony finds itself alone on the reef or surrounded by others of its kind. The research, led by doctoral student Kai Kopecky(link is external), appears in the journal Coral Reefs(link is external).

Kopecky and his co-authors were curious how corals can reemerge following large disturbances like cyclones and marine heatwaves, which periodically devastate the reefs of Mo’orea, French Polynesia, where the research was conducted.

“Mo’orea is prone to big heat shocks, storm waves, cyclones and predatory sea star outbreaks,” said co-author Adrian Stier(link is external), an associate professor in the Department of Ecology Evolution & Marine Biology and one of Kopecky’s advisors. “It just wipes the slate clean in terms of coral death. And sometimes, just a few years later, you can swim around and see thriving life. We’re still really curious about what allows these ecosystems to bounce back.”

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