How Coral Networks Keep Fish Stocks Strong

coral reef bloom photo

Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia; via Flickr Creative Commons

The Coral Triangle is an area around Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines that is one of the richest places on earth for coral reefs, and over one third of the planet's reefs are found here. Where there are coral reefs, there are lots of fish, so that means many fish populations are dependent on the health of these reefs -- and many humans too. The coral reef ecosystems provide food and income for upwards of 100 million people, and a new study shows exactly how that networks keeps fish in the oceans. Ocean Leadership reports on a new paper titled "Connectivity and the development of population genetic structure in Indo-West Pacific coral reef communities" by Johnathan T. Kool, Claire B. Paris, Paul H. Barber and Robert K. Cowen. In it, the researchers note that the key to keeping healthy populations of fish (besides, of course, strict regulations on overfishing) is maintaining a healthy network of links between major reefs.

"Maintaining the network of links between reefs allowing larvae to flow between them and re-stock depleted areas, is key to saving coral ecosystems threatened by human pressure and climate change," Dr Kool explains. (Dr. Kool, by the way, is probably the most awesome name a scientist can have.)

Thus healthy "links" between larger reefs where both coral and fish larvae can safely move among reefs keeps both the reefs healthier through biodiversity, and fish populations higher.

"Knowing where coral spawn comes from is vital to managing our reefs successfully. Even though coral reef communities may not be connected directly to one another, reefs on the edge of the Coral Triangle have the potential to contribute significant amounts of genetic diversity throughout the region."

This is a topic that came up last June, when some scientists noted that most of the evolution (and thus adaptation) is happening at the edge of coral reefs while conservation efforts seem to happen most in the middle. To maintain healthy reefs, the edges can't be ignored. This newest study hammers that point home by showing how important those edges are to networking coral and fish larvae.

The scientists also point out that because reefs overlap national boarders, that networking is important among politicians as well -- governments need to talk with each other and get in sync with conservation efforts to ensure reefs' survival and strong fish populations. Because full stomachs and hearty economies rely on reefs, networking both above and below the waves is more important than ever.

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