Red grouper is the ‘Frank Lloyd Wright’ of the sea

January 20th, 2010 - 5:10 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, January 20 (ANI): A new study by researchers at The Florida State University has revealed that the seemingly sluggish red grouper is both an architect and ecosystem engineer, and is thus dubbed the ‘Frank Lloyd Wright of the sea’.

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.

“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,” she added.

Working along the West Florida Shelf, Felicia C. Coleman, director of Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory, 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.

Carl Walters, editor-in-chief of The Open Fish Science Journal and a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, points to the study’s important implications for fisheries management and biodiversity protection.

He said that the research reveals the key role red grouper may play, through their modification of fine-scale habitat structure and quality, in the development of biodiversity on Gulf of Mexico reef systems.

“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,” he added.

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. (ANI)

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