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Seaweed-threatened corals send chemical SOS to fish

Cry for help summons allies to graze away the overgrowth

When a killer seaweed touches a kind of spiky coral, the coral pushes a chemical panic button that brings small resident fish to the rescue.

Unchecked, seaweed algae can overrun a coral reef, as the community dwindles in “a descent into slime,” says marine ecologist Mark Hay of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. But within 15 minutes of contact with a toxin-making seaweed, an Acropora nasuta coral releases compounds that prompt goby fish to seek out and trim back the seaweed, Hay and colleague Danielle Dixson report in the Nov. 9 Science.

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