Researchers Find New Threat To Degraded Coral Reefs – ‘Coral Ticks’

Coral reefs face a myriad of different threats in today's world.But now researchers have discovered one more.

A previously overlooked predator— a thumbnail-sized snail—could be increasing the pressure on coral reefs already weakened by the effects of overfishing, rising ocean temperatures, pollution and other threats. The snail attacks a key coral species that may offer the last hope for bringing back degraded Pacific reefs.

The snail damages coral by sucking fluid from it like a tick, and may have been ignored because it camouflages itself on reefs and doesn’t move around to leave obvious signs of its attack. In experiments done directly on Fiji Island reefs, scientists quantified the impact of the snails, and found that snail attacks could reduce the growth of Porites cylindrica coral by as much as 43 percent in less than a month.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology conducted the research and reported it July 26 in the journal Ecological Applications. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Teasley Endowment to Georgia Tech.

Photo: USFWS/Wikimedia Commons

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