Making a Difference 2019-2020

FOR A FISH, IT’S NOT JUST WHO YOU ARE, BUT WHERE YOU ARE ARC-supported research has determined that the long-term success of clownfish depends more on living in a ‘good neighbourhood’ than it does on good genes. The natural home of the clownfish is the anemone, but not all anemones are equal. Professor Geoff Jones, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, and his international research collaborators, found that the reproductive success of the clownfish depends almost entirely on having a high-quality anemone home. Finding a suitable anemone to live in often comes down to luck—being in the right place at the right time—although in terms of their genes, clownfish strive to be as good as they can be at finding a suitable habitat. The quantitative genetic study comprises ten years of research on the coral reefs of Papua New Guinea. Family trees for up to five generations were established for the entire clownfish population at an island in Kimbe Bay, a well-known biodiversity hot spot. One implication of the findings is that as long as high-quality anemones remain healthy, this will ensure the clownfish population can persist. However, the researchers note, anemones, and coral reefs in general, are under direct threat from the impacts of climate change. “THE SUCCESS OF BIG CLOWNFISH FAMILIES THAT EXTEND OVER MANY GENERATIONS IS LINKED TO HIGH-QUALITY HABITATS, NOT THEIR SHARED GENES,” SAYS PROFESSOR JONES.

The research team at Kimbe Bay in 2017. Credit: Tane Sinclair-Taylor.



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