Coral reefs thrive next to rat-free islands, new study finds

Coral reefs thrive next to rat-free islands, new study finds

Rats exact a punishing toll on island seabird colonies, decimating their numbers as they eat the birds’ eggs and young. Research has shown that fewer birds, and fewer bird droppings, mean that ecosystems on these islands don’t have the same diversity and quantity of life. But until now, our understanding of the impact that rats have has stopped at the island’s edge. “What people haven’t really captured is how that then affects adjacent marine ecosystems,” said Nick Graham, a marine ecologist at Lancaster University in the U.K. Graham is the lead author of a study published July 11 in the journal Nature, in which he and his colleagues demonstrate that coral reefs next to rat-infested islands aren’t as healthy as reefs near rat-free islands. He presented the team’s research on July 10 at the European Open Science Forum 2018 (ESOF18) in Toulouse, France. “These rats are having a knock-on effect to the adjacent coral reef system,” Graham said, “and that’s never been shown before.” An immature red footed booby in the Chagos Archipelago. Image by Dan Bayley. Invasive species such as rats, goats and pigs that humans have dropped off — intentionally or inadvertently — on islands around the world are linked to 86 percent of the extinctions of island animals, according to a 2016 study. At the same time, the very existence of the coral reefs that ring many of these islands in the tropics is under threat from warming and increasingly acidic seas. Though climate change and a…

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