‘Knight in Spiny Armor’: Could Cobsters Help Save Florida’s Dying Corals?

By Richard Luscombe.

A three-year study found that the spiny lobsters’ urine scared off predatory worms and snails who snack on the delicate organisms.

An unexpected champion has emerged in the increasingly grave battle to save Florida’s imperiled coral reefs: spiny lobsters that urinate in the water and scare off predatory worms and snails seeking to feast on the delicate organisms.

The finding is one of the more bizarre conclusions of a three-year study by scientists from the Florida fish and wildlife conservation commission (FWC), who are also warning it may already be too late for some species of coral to survive without significant human assistance.

Last summer’s record ocean heat further accelerated a 90% decline in healthy coral in the Florida Keys since the 1970s. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) confirmed last month that ongoing high temperatures meant the world was experiencing its fourth global bleaching event of all time, and second in 10 years.

The reef-dwelling lobsters, the researchers say, could act as “knights in spiny armor” as the fight continues to save reefs in various states of degradation from collapsing completely. Not only does the scent of their urine appear to scare off corallivorous snails and fireworms that like to munch on live coral, but the spiny spotted lobsters are partial to themselves eating any of the smaller creatures unaffected by the odor.

“Lobsters urinate quite frequently, it’s part of how they communicate with each other, and they’re social animals so they’ll seek out the odor of other lobsters and aggregate shelters together. Prey can smell that odor and avoid it,” said Casey Butler, associate research scientist and head of the lobster research program at FWC.

In places where nursery-grown coral was planted as part of restoration programs, Butler said, the lobsters had an equally important role in devouring the creatures that harm it.

read more at theguardian.com.