Setting up home in the stinging tentacles of a sea anemone might seem like a risky option, but anemonefish also known as clownfish and popularised in the movie Finding Nemo are perfectly content in their unlikely abode. Fending off peckish anemone predators in return for refuge, plucky clownfish have achieved a satisfactory arrangement with their deadly partners. Yet Joe Szczebak from Auburn University, USA, wondered whether there might be more to the unconventional collaboration than met the eye. According to Szczebak, coral reefs are awash with oxygen during the day, but levels can plummet overnight when photosynthesis has ceased. Adding that some damselfish waft oxygen-rich water over corals at night to supplement their oxygen supply, Szczebak wondered whether clownfish might have struck a similar deal with their anemone hosts. 'There had been almost no research done on the clownfishanemone mutualism at night', explains Szczebak. He and his Master's thesis advisor, Nanette Chadwick, publish their discovery that clownfish fan their anemone hosts to supplement the anemone's meagre nocturnal oxygen supply in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.
Szczebak and Chadwick travelled to Fuad Al-Horani's physiology lab at the Marine Science Station in Aqaba, Jordan, and went SCUBA diving in the Red Sea to find the diminutive fish and their anemone partners. Then the team isolated each fish from its anemone and measured their individual oxygen consumption rates before reuniting the partners. They discovered that the fish and anemone consumed 1.4 times more oxygen when they were together than when they were apart. Something was happening when the fish and its anemone were together to increase their oxygen consumption, but Szczebak wasn't sure what.
Having successfully returned the fish to their Red Sea home before flying back to the United States, Szczebak repea
|Contact: Nicola Stead|
The Company of Biologists