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UDaily: UD researchers evaluate how coral-seaweed interactions affect coral associated reef fishes

UDaily: UD researchers evaluate how coral-seaweed interactions affect coral associated reef fishes

A new study by the University of Delaware’s Danielle Dixson and Rohan Brooker has shown that butterflyfishes avoid coral that has come in contact with seaweed. The paper, which appeared this week in the Nature publication Scientific Reports, is the first to critically evaluate the impact coral-seaweed interactions will have on coral associated reef fishes, a key component of coral reef resilience.

In controlled patch experiments in Fiji, the study found that coral-feeding and coral-associated butterflyfishes overwhelmingly avoided corals that had contact with seaweeds. This was true regardless of whether the visual cue of the seaweed itself was present, leading the researchers to conclude that the coral-seaweed interaction produced chemical cues that were left behind even after the seaweed was removed.

“Butterflyfish are kind of like the canary in the coal mine,” said Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy, which is housed in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.