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Study Says Coral And Fish Can 'Smell' Bad Reefs

Update Date: Aug 22, 2014 03:17 AM EDT

Pacific corals and fish can both smell a bad neighborhood and they use this ability to avoid settling in damaged reefs, according to a new study. 

The study found that the damaged coral reefs emit chemical cues that repulse young coral and fish discouraging them from settling in the degraded habitat. 

The study is first to show that coral larvae can smell the difference between healthy and damaged reefs when they decide where to settle. 

"If you're setting up a marine protected area to seed recruitment into a degraded habitat, that recruitment may not happen if young fish and coral are not recognizing the degraded area as habitat," said Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and the study's first author, in the press release.

The study examined marine areas in Fiji that had adjacent fished areas. The country has established no-fishing areas to protect its healthy habitats. 

"Not only are coral smelling good areas versus bad areas, but they're nuanced about it," said Mark Hay, a professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech and the study's senior author. "They're making careful decisions and can say, 'settle or don't settle.'"

The study has been published in the journal Science

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