Linda Wegley Kelly, the study's lead author, is a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of SDSU virologist Forest Rohwer.
"Corals are fierce competitors for space on the reef," Kelly said. "In a healthy marine environment, reefs support a vibrant population of corals and other calcifying organisms that continuously build the reef skyward." If reefs are dominated by algae, however, the entire habitat dissolves over time, and the fish don't have anywhere to go, Kelly said.
Kelly's results have implications for conservationists looking for ways to improve strategies for managing coral reef ecosystems.
"How do you create an environment for corals to thrive?" Kelly said. "In addition to practicing sustainable fishing, one way to rehabilitate a reef would be to transplant corals to the site. This should promote an environment more conducive to coral growth by fostering a beneficial community of microorganisms."