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STRI Fellow Contributes to BIG Find!

Posted on January 23, 2017 by in The OFI Blog

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Caitlin D. Kuempel¬†and staff scientist Dr. Andrew Altieri recently made a big find off the Atlantic coast of Panama. After Alteri noticed that a reef that should have died off was still alive, the two set out to answer the question: why hadn’t it been annihilated yet?

Typically, large parrot fish and sea urchins will eat the algae that can otherwise suffocate and kill off a reef if it continues to grow. However, because of over-fishing in the area, these large herbivores were nowhere to be found leaving the algae to takeover the coral.

Instead, Altieri and Kuempel’s research lead to the discovery of a few unsuspecting reef rescuers! The two found that tiny sea urchins and parrot fish had taken over for their larger cousins in keeping a reef alive and free of algae. This may not seem so impressive however, if these ping-pong ball sized sea urchins and thumb sized parrot fish were not present, the reef could become totally annihilated.

To find out more about their recent discovery, check out an article recently posted by the Smithsonian Magazine here.