Original Published Date: 
Friday, November 29, 2019

Full article issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

In a new study, ARC-supported scientists report 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. Study co-author Professor Geoff Jones, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, says the reproductive success of the clownfish depends almost entirely on having a high-quality anemone home.

“For a clownfish, it’s not ‘who’ you are, but ‘where’ you are that matters for your future reproductive success,” Professor Jones said.

“In terms of their genes, clownfish are as good as they can be at finding a suitable habitat. The rest comes down to luck—of being in the right place at the right time.”

“The success of big families that extend over many generations is linked to high-quality habitats, not their shared genes.”

The quantitative genetic study comprises ten years of research on the coral reefs of Papua New Guinea. Family trees were established for the entire clownfish population at an island in Kimbe Bay, a well-known biodiversity hot spot. The team of scientists identified each fish individually and sampled its DNA to establish who was related to whom over five successive generations.

Photo credit: 

Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) on their anemone in the lagoon around Kimbe Island in Papua New Guinea. Simon Thorrold (WHOI).