Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Red grouper to be 'Frank Lloyd Wrights of the sea'

Date:
January 21, 2010
Source:
Florida State University
Summary:
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 reveals the fish to be both architect and ecosystem engineer.

Red grouper (Epinephelus morio) is a commercially important reef fish. Adults, seen here, live at depths of 200-300 feet on the West Florida Shelf.
Credit: Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory

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.

"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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Florida State University. "Red grouper to be 'Frank Lloyd Wrights of the sea'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100119172843.htm>.
Florida State University. (2010, January 21). Red grouper to be 'Frank Lloyd Wrights of the sea'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100119172843.htm
Florida State University. "Red grouper to be 'Frank Lloyd Wrights of the sea'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100119172843.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Newsy (July 23, 2014) A U.C. San Diego researcher says jealousy isn't just a human trait, and dogs aren't the best at sharing the attention of humans with other dogs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Newsy (July 23, 2014) ​It's called I Know Where Your Cat Lives, and you can keep hitting the "Random Cat" button to find more real cats all over the world. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The Wawona Packing Company has issued a voluntary recall on the stone fruit it distributes due to a possible Listeria outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
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