BOFFFFs, critical to the survival of their shallow counterparts

Written by on November 4, 2016 in Marine Life

There are lots of acronyms in the marine science world (MPA, RMFO, NOAA, CCAMLR, the list goes on and on), but our new favorite is BOFFFF. Big,old, fat, fecund, female fish.

BOFFFFs are important to marine ecosystems around the world because they’re the ones that reproduce and help keep populations healthy.

Bicolor damselfish. Photo credit: OSU.

Bicolor damselfish. Photo credit: OSU.

New research from Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Miami (UM) reveals that populations of coral reef fish in shallower, more vulnerable habitats rely on deeper reefs that are full of larger and older fish with better than average reproductive capabilities: BOFFFFs. While fish in the mesophotic zone (30-150m beneath the surface) are present in lower densities, there is a higher number of these big, old females.

The research team studied bicolor damselfish at three depths (less than 10m, 20-30m, and in the mesophotic zone) off the coast of Florida and looked at population density and individuals’ growth, size, and reproductive output. Damselfish are typically short-lived, but in deeper locations, they can live for more than a decade.

The deeper reefs they studied are less susceptible to human-caused and natural destructions, so researchers wanted to know if they could support robust fish populations. To some extent, they do. As water depth increased, the bicolor damselfish population density decreased and age distributions shifted toward older, larger individuals, including BOFFFFs.

“Mesophotic reefs are sort of a warehouse for future fish in the shallower reefs,” lead author Esther D. Goldstein said in a news release. “The fish are older and larger on average, and they invest a lot into reproduction, which is good.

“So even though there are not as many of them on these deep reefs, their offspring hatch from larger eggs and likely experience higher survivorship, so it would
seem they have the capacity to contribute more than their fair share to the shallow-water environments.”

To learn more, read the OSU news release: Larvae from fat fish on deep reefs help keep shallower populations afloat.

Copyright © 2016 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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