The social eating habits of fish may play a central role in protecting coral reefs, according to a study from the
Fish provide a critical service for coral reefs by eating algae that can kill coral and dominate reefs if left unchecked. The study, which analyzed the social feeding behavior of reef fish, suggests that overfishing not only removes vital algae-eaters, but it may cause remaining fish to eat less.
“Even though these fish don’t swim in schools, our study shows that they’re influencing one another,” said lead author
The study was conducted off the remote island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia, where the researchers mounted arrays of video cameras to large,
The study found that fish react to social situations much like humans do: They copy one another. Though copied behaviors may be simple, like swimming to a patch of reef to dine on algae or flee from a predator, this makes the feeding behavior of the reef fish community more complex than previously thought.
The results imply that predictive models that don’t consider how reef fish respond to each other could mischaracterize how coral reefs will respond to fishing.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, Florida Sea Grant, and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.