A CONSTANT BATTLE
Sea urchins help corals fight for space
Graduate Student: Stella Swanson
It is the corals on a coral reef
that make it such a beautiful place. Without corals, all the beautiful
and brightly colored animals that live there would have nowhere to hide.
Corals and seaweed are always at odds, competing for space to grow and light
for photosynthesis. Seaweed generally, grow much faster than corals and, if
left alone, can overtake a beautiful coral reef and turn it into an underwater
forest. Herbivores, like some fish and sea urchins, like to eat seaweed, and
therefore help corals by giving them a chance to grow and thrive.
Certain species of sea urchins are important
for maintaining coral reefs, but it is not clear if all sea urchins
eat enough seaweed to do this. There are four main species of sea
urchins that live on the coral reefs in Moorea and Stella Swanson
wants to find out which of these species helps corals to survive.
She will test her hypothesis that one sea urchin is the best at controlling
seaweed growth by manipulating what type of sea urchin is present on a coral
and watching to see if the seaweed or coral grows best. If Stella's predictions
are correct, certain species of sea urchin will eat enough seaweed to allow the
coral's survival, but others will not eat enough to stop the seaweed from taking over.
Return to the index of current graduate students here. | Access the index of past graduate students here.