If you remember the film Finding Nemo, you might remember the titular clownfish character’s home in the coral reef.
The coral reefs are of great interest to marine scientists on account of their rich biodiversity. A new study reveals that their larvae dispersal methods are not same for all fish, as previously believed. The new information could be helpful in finding new conservation strategies for the species which are fast depleting.
The colourful clownfish lay their eggs in the coral reefs. Once they hatch, they become tiny, transparent larvae and float around in a sea of plankton.
The study led by Rutgers focused onthese fishes in Philippines and discovered their dispersal depends on year and seasons and can vary greatly. Waves, aided by wind and current of each season, carry these larvae to range of different reefs than their origin.
The study, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, lasted for over seven years to understand these variations. The researchers did a genetic analysis to detect larval dispersal.
The chosen fish were Amphiprion clarkii, also called yellowtail clownfish and Clark's anemonefish, which are one of the most common reef fishes. The study from 2012 to 2018 was in partnership with Philippine’s Visayas State University.
Other studies mostly analyse the patterns of larvae dispersal annually. So, they often don’t include any variation that might occur over time. According to lead author Katrina A. Catalano, this means when not accounting the dispersal variability, the stability of the coral reef populations can be overestimated.
“If we study dispersal variability in more species over greater timescales, we will better understand what causes the variation and can better design such protected areas for the conservation of species,” she said.
It is a problem because studying dispersal is key to understanding larger themes of ecology and evolution like population growth, adaptation and extinction. It is also key to understand how any species might be adapting to survive with climate change and global warming. Especially in a time when many reefs have been destroyed and declared dead due to climate change impact.
But learning these variations in dispersal, scientists can predict which reefs receive most of the larvae and so on. It can be a crucial step in protecting those reefs with are rich with clownfish and hence are ecologically richer.
Catalano added how more research is required with even greater timescales along with population models in order to understand the full effects.