For nearly two centuries, scientists have pondered "Darwin's Paradox," the enduring mystery of why coral reefs thrive in tropical waters, which are woefully short on nutrients. Reefs are teeming oases in aquatic wastelands, and researchers have puzzled endlessly over how they flourish. One answer may come from the thousands of species of tiny colorful fish, rarely longer than an inch, that serve themselves up as a never-ending feast for bigger fish.
They're called "cryptobenthic" fishes because they live on the seabed floor and often hide in crevices in coral reefs — "crypto" coming form the Greek word for "hidden." They reproduce quickly and die young, gobbled up like candy during their first few weeks of life.
"It's like putting a jar of gummy fish in the office lunchroom, a large quantity of colorful little morsels that almost everybody will take a handful of on the go," said Simon Brandl, a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He, along with biology professor Isabelle Côté, studied the behavior of these tiny fishes and published the findings in the journal Science. "I can't speak to whether our tiny fish come in different flavors —you would have to ask the bigger fish — but the key here is that because of their unique way of life, this jar basically replenishes constantly," he added.