If you want to know about the future of coral reefs that harbor marine life and protect coastlines, sometimes that means you have to go there and count barnacles. A National Science Foundation-funded team from Rice University was willing and able to do so, and discovered in the process that depth makes a big difference to the biological erosion that can lead reefs to either grow or shrink. The published results that showed Lithotrya dorsalis, a species of barnacle that bores into stony coral for protection, tends to favor colonies in shallower waters, perhaps because food is more plentiful there. Certain bioeroding parrotfishes, sponges and sea urchins are often studied because they munch on reef limestone (calcium carbonate) and can reduce reef frameworks. This influences the net gain or loss of calcium carbonate over time and is an important measure of the health of sensitive coral reefs. The team chose to study barnacles because their relative importance in removing reef framework has been unclear in previous studies, especially at mesophotic depths -- greater than 30 meters -- where the water is cooler.
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