Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New study reveals red grouper to be 'Frank Lloyd Wrights of the sea'

20.01.2010
To the casual observer in the Gulf of Mexico, the seemingly sluggish red grouper is more of a couch potato than a busy beaver. But a new study led by researchers at The Florida State University reveals the fish to be both architect and ecosystem engineer.

Most abundant along Florida's west coast but also found on watery ledges and in crevices and caverns from North Carolina to Brazil, the red grouper excavates and maintains complex, three-dimensional structures that provide critical habitats for the spiny lobster and many other commercially important species in the Gulf of Mexico. The researchers watched it work hard to remove sand from the sea floor, exposing hard rocks crucial to corals and sponges and the animals they shelter.

In fact, the red grouper's sandy architecture is a monument to the interconnectedness of species and the vital role such connections play in the structural and functional diversity of the ocean, suggests Felicia C. Coleman, director of Florida State University's Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

"Watching these fish dig holes was amazing enough," Coleman said, "but then we realized that the sites they created served to attract mates, beneficial species such as cleaner shrimp that pick parasites and food scraps off the resident fish, and a variety of prey species for the red grouper. So it is no surprise that the fish are remarkably sedentary. Why move if you are clever enough to make everything you need come to you?"

Coleman and Christopher C. Koenig –– her spouse and fellow faculty member in the Department of Biological Science –– describe their study in a paper ("Benthic Habitat Modification through Excavation by Red Grouper, Epinephelus morio, in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico") published online Jan. 9 in The Open Fish Science Journal. Their co-authors are Kathryn M. Scanlon, of the U.S. Geological Survey, Woods Hole, Mass.; Scott Heppell and Selena Heppell, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University; and Margaret W. Miller, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Miami, Fla.

"Red grouper are the 'Frank Lloyd Wrights' of the sea floor," said University of California-Davis Professor Susan Williams, who collaborated with Coleman on an earlier, related study. "Its sea-floor associates include commercially valuable species such as vermilion snapper, black grouper and spiny lobsters. If the groupers are overfished, the suite of species that depends on them is likely to suffer."

Working along the West Florida Shelf, Coleman and colleagues observed the red grouper's excavating activities during both its juvenile stage in inshore waters and its adult stage at depths of 300 feet.

Carl Walters, editor-in-chief of The Open Fish Science Journal and a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, points to the study's important implications for fisheries management and biodiversity protection. He said the research reveals the key role red grouper may play, through their modification of fine-scale habitat structure and quality, in the development of biodiversity on Gulf of Mexico reef systems.

"We suspected that the groupers created the habitat," Coleman said. "We found through a series of experiments that they not only dug the holes but also maintained them by carrying mouthfuls of sediment from the center of the pit to the periphery and expelling them through their gills and mouths, then brushing off the rocks with their tail fins."

As juveniles, red grouper excavate the limestone bottom of Florida Bay and elsewhere, exposing "solution holes" formed thousands of years ago when sea level was lower and freshwater dissolved holes in the rock surface. When sea level rose to its present state, the solution holes filled with sediment. By removing the sediment from them, the fish restructure the flat bottom into a three- dimensional matrix, which is enhanced by the settlement and growth of corals and sponges. Spiny lobsters are among the many species that occupy those excavations, especially during the day when seeking refuge from roving predators.

Loss of this habitat –– through the loss of red grouper due to intensive fishing –– has obvious consequences to the lobster fishery of South Florida, Coleman said. She warns that habitat engineers, like foundation species, must be maintained in a healthy state, or the consequences to fishery production could be severe.

"You can't remove an animal that can dig a hole five meters across and several meters deep to reveal the rocky substrate and expect there to be no effect on reef communities," Koenig said. "The juveniles of a species closely associated with these pits, vermilion snapper, are extremely abundant around the offshore excavations. It is possible that the engineered habitat is significant as a nursery for this species, which other big fish rely on as food. One could anticipate a domino effect in lost diversity resulting from the loss of red grouper-engineered habitat."

Suggested changes in fisheries management intended to reduce bycatch of sea turtles in the long-line fishery by pushing the fleet further offshore would increase the fishing pressure on red grouper and other ecosystem engineers, such as tilefish, found at greater depths, contends Coleman.

"Imagine the impact not only on red grouper and tilefish but also on a suite of deep-water grouper for which we have very little information, other than the fact that some of them are critically endangered," she said.

Go to http://marinefeeder.magnet.fsu.edu/faculty/benthichabitat.aspx for more about the red grouper study led by Coleman and Koenig, including a copy of the paper published in The Open Science Fish Journal (www.bentham.org/open/tofishsj/openaccess3.htm) and a brief video depicting the fish at work on the Gulf floor.

Felicia Coleman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.fsu.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein
24.01.2017 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY

nachricht Choreographing the microRNA-target dance
24.01.2017 | UT Southwestern Medical Center

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>