Chevroned Butterflyfish Need Their Coral

chevroned butterflyfish1 Chevroned Butterflyfish Need Their Coral

Ask a committed vegetarian if they’d rather starve than have to survive off an all meat diet, and some of them will actually say yes. And while dying seems an extreme sacrifice for food, humans are not alone in this regard. Turns out the Chevroned Butterflyfish has a similar response. And it’s driven them to the verge of extinction.

This beautiful and distinctly patterned yellow, black and white butterflyfish (Chaetodon trifascialis) has a highly specialized appetite, and the degradation of the world’s coral reefs is making it harder for them to find food.

While butterflyfish are found all over the globe, the diet of the Chevroned species consists of a specific type of coral, Acropora hyacinthus. And as the coral dies out (due to global warming, pollution and human over-exploitation), the fish seem to be following suit.

According to an article in Science Daily, scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies “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 favorite coral was available – but when this was removed and other sorts of corals offered, it grew thin, failed to thrive and some died.”

Scientists are unable to explain how or why the butterflyfish developed this specialized diet, but what is known is that up to 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs are damaged (including the A. hyacinthus) due to the coral bleaching that results from increasing ocean temperatures and the waste dumped into the oceans by humans.

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

Call them dietary specialists or call them food snobs – the name doesn’t matter. What matters is that these beautiful fish may soon be added to the list of climate change casualties.

(via Science Daily)

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