Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Butterfly Fish 'May Face Extinction'

Date:
February 25, 2008
Source:
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
Summary:
A beautiful black, white and yellow butterflyfish, much admired by eco-tourists, divers and aquarium keepers alike, may be at risk of extinction, scientists have warned. The case of the chevroned butterfly fish is a stark example of how human pressure on the world's coral reefs is confronting certain species with 'blind alleys' from which they may be unable to escape, says one of the scientists.

Chaetodontri fascialis Butterflyfish feed specifically on corals.
Credit: Image courtesy of ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies

A beautiful black, white and yellow butterflyfish, much admired by eco-tourists, divers and aquarium keepers alike, may be at risk of extinction, scientists have warned.

The case of the Chevroned Butterflyfish is a stark example of how human pressure on the world’s coral reefs is confronting certain species with ‘blind alleys’ from which they may be unable to escape, says Dr Morgan Pratchett of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

In a study published in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology Dr Pratchett and Dr Michael Berumen of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA) warn that the highly specialized nature of the feeding habits of this particular butterflyfish – the distinctively patterned Chaetodon trifascialis - make it an extinction risk as the world’s coral reefs continue to degrade due to human over-exploitation, pollution and climate change.

“The irony is that these butterflyfish are widespread around the world, and you’d have thought their chances of survival were pretty good,” Dr Pratchett said.

“But they only eat one sort of coral – Acropora hyacinthus – and when that runs out, the fish just disappear from the reef.”

The team found it hard to believe a fish would starve rather than eat a mixed diet, so they tested C. trifascialis in tank trials on a range of different corals. The fish grew well when its favourite coral was available – but when this was removed and other sorts of corals offered, it grew thin, failed to thrive and some died.

“We call these kinds of fish obligate specialists. It means they have a very strong dietary preference for one sort of food, and when that is no longer available, they go into decline. We still don’t have a satisfactory scientific explanation for this, as it seems like rather a risky tactic in evolutionary terms – but it must confer some advantage provided enough of its preferred food is available,” Dr Pratchett says.

The A. hyacinthus coral, which the butterfly fish feeds on, is itself highly vulnerable – to attacks by plagues of crown-of-thorns starfish (thought to be triggered by humans releasing excess nutrients onto the reef as sediment, fertilizer or sewage), to storms and to the coral bleaching caused by the heating of ocean surface waters to 32 degrees or more, which is thought to be linked to global warming.

“Although extremely widespread, the Chevroned butterflyfish may be at considerable risk of extinction following ongoing degradation of coral reefs around the world, because the coral itself is exceptionally vulnerable, Dr Pratchett explains.

“It is estimated that up to 70 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are now badly degraded, which usually involves the loss of this particular coral – and, when it goes, the C. trifascialis also disappear from the reef.

“To make matters worse, butterflyfishes are one of the main families of coral reef fishes being targeted by aquarium collectors. However, the specialized coral-eaters are clearly not suitable for keeping in aquaria - and often die because they cannot obtain their main food source.”

A previous case in which a coral-dependent fish vanished occurred in the case of Gobiodon a specialized coral-dweller known only from one site, Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea, which was thought by scientists to have possibly become extinct after its habitat was destroyed.

Researchers consider that such extinctions are likely to occur as part of the global mass extinction of species now taking place, and that marine ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable in that small changes in habitat or water quality can have a big impact on their species.

Dr Pratchett and Dr Berumen say theirs is one of the few studies so far to consider the evolutionary and ecological basis of dietary versatility, and has implications for the fate of specialised feeders throughout the animal kingdom.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies. "Butterfly Fish 'May Face Extinction'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080225072629.htm>.
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies. (2008, February 25). Butterfly Fish 'May Face Extinction'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080225072629.htm
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies. "Butterfly Fish 'May Face Extinction'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080225072629.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) Poachers have killed 100,000 elephants between 2010 and 2012, as the booming ivory trade takes its toll on the animals in Africa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Green Power Blooms as Japan Unveils 'hydrangea Solar Cell'

Green Power Blooms as Japan Unveils 'hydrangea Solar Cell'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) A solar cell that resembles a flower is offering a new take on green energy in Japan, where one scientist is searching for renewables that look good. Duration: 01:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins