Apr 15 2010

An inter-species relationship – when love is reciprocated.

Published by under species interactions and tagged: ,

The parent’s shelter may not always be the best for the child. This may be the most apt description for the clownfish (anemonefish), whose true protectors in the coral reef ecosystems are the sea anemones instead of their parents (Roach, 2003).

A mutualistic relationship is one where both partners of different species derive benefit from their interaction (Holbrook & Schmitt, 2005). Mutualism between the clownfish (Amphiprion sp.) and the sea anemones is one of the better-known examples of symbiosis that can be commonly seen on the southern shores of Singapore, such as on Kusu Island, Pulau Semakau and Sentosa.

Fig. 1: Our very own version of Nemo – the False clown anemonefish, Amphiprion ocellaris, living in the Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea).

Fig. 1: Our very own version of Nemo – the False clown anemonefish, Amphiprion ocellaris, living in the Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea). Location: Kusu Island. (Tan, 2004)

In general, what does each party stand to gain from the relationship?

For the clownfish, protection from their predators is one of the main advantages. The tentacles of sea anemones have nematocysts that deter contact by most fishes and other invertebrates, while the mucus coating on the clownfish prevents the nematocysts from discharging its stingers (Holbrook & Schmitt, 2005). Thus, a safe haven is created for the clownfish when it seeks refuge within the tentacles of the sea anemone. An additional benefit is the provision of a safe nest site by the sea anemone (Holbrook & Schmitt, 2005). Leftovers of prey captured by the host sea anemone may also serve as a source of food for the clownfish (Tan, 2008).

Fig. 2: Tomato anemonefish, Amphiprion frenatus, living in the  Bubble tip sea anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor).

Fig. 2: Tomato anemonefish, Amphiprion frenatus, living in the Bubble tip sea anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor). Location: Pulau Semakau. (Tan, 2008)

In return, the clownfish defends its host anemone from predators (Roach, 2003; Holbrook & Schmitt, 2005). The clownfish may also remove parasites, dead tissues and sediments from the anemone (Tan, 2008). In addition, there is the possibility that anemonefishes attract other fishes that are captured and eaten by the sea anemone (Tan, 2008). Sources of regenerated nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous can also be obtained if the sea anemone absorbs the wastes of the fish to gain additional nutritive benefits (Fautin, 1991; Holbrook & Schmitt, 2005).

Life is indeed enjoyable when love is reciprocated after all.

Literature cited

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