A recent study has found a new aspect of the deeply connected ecosystem of coral reefs. They are able to thrive because of their mutually beneficial relation will all types of sea life. Scientists discovered that fish urine is crucial to the health and growth of coral reefs and the diminishing presence of fish has adverse effects on coral reef population.
The study was recently published in Nature Communications, by researchers from the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. Their work has revealed that the absence of fish urine is behind the lack of nutrients required by corals in waters where commercial fishing is a common occurrence.
Coral reefs provide shelter and opportunities for food for various species of fish and in return they pee out nutrients essential for the health and growth of coral reef populations, as part of a mutual beneficial relation that maintains the ecosystem. The fish urine eliminated through the gills contains phosphorus and nitrogen in the form of ammonium. These serve as important nutrients for coral reefs and helps to both maintain their health and spur new population growth. The health of a coral reef is directly correlated to levels of nutrients in the surrounding water.
Previous studies regarding the population growth of coral reefs, have found that a higher number of fish leads to increased coral population growth. Smaller fish populations leads to the health decline of coral reefs.
According to Jacob Allgeier, one of the researchers for the study, populations of other sea animals in the surrounding water of coral reefs are also important because they can help spread the nutrients.
A large proportion of the nutrients in a coral reef are found inside the tissues of fish but they also play an important role in the recycling of these nutrients. Allgeier said that:
“Simply stated, fish biomass in coral reefs is being reduced by fishing pressure. If biomass is shrinking, there are fewer fish to pee.”
During their study, the researchers measured the level of nutrients at a various reefs around the world and discovered that reefs with a higher population of predatory fish have more vital nutrients than the reefs with a fewer number of big fish in their surrounding water.
The study offers a new reason why humans should be more careful about overfishing as it effects more than the sustainability of our food source, it can have devastating effect on coral reefs and marine ecosystems overall.
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