Rabbitfish may help save large areas of the Great Barrier Reef from destruction because they are herbivores and capable of stripping an area of vegetation, scientists recently said.
Coral reefs that have been weakened or damaged by human activity or natural disaster usually recover as long as they are not choked by marine algae, the scientists said.
However, because the populations of fish that normally feed on the algae have been fished down, the algae has been left to grow substantially.
Researchers have spent years running live experiments to see what happens when a reef turns to weed – and which fish, if any, are of help in restoring the coral.
Most herbivores avoided the weed, except for the rabbitfish.
Underwater video cameras caught the rabbitfish, in schools up to 15, grazing the crest, slopes and outer flats of the reef, and eating at more than 10 times the rate of other weed-eaters.
However the team noticed the rabbitfish concentrated their weed-removal efforts on the crest of the reef and were less effective on the slopes and flats – a feeding preference that is yet to be explained.
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