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January 2020    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 46, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Climate Change is Killing Clownfish

from the January, 2020 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The clownfish, ever popular with underwater photographers and immortalized in the film Finding Nemo, is in danger from global warming.

A team of scientists from France's National Centre for Scientific Research, studying a colony around Kimbe Island, PNG, discovered that clownfish were very picky when it came to choosing mates. While they live in a symbiotic relationship with anemones, both the fish and anemones ultimately rely for their survival on coral, which itself is under threat from increasing sea temperatures. So they may need to adapt quickly.

But, they may not be able to do that. "The reproductive success of a population is what guarantees its ability to adapt," said researcher Benoit Poujol, but clownfish reproduction requires a stable and benign environment, which coral destruction doesn't provide.

Each anemone is home to a single female fish, one sexually active male, and other sexually inactive males. If the female dies, the male becomes female and the most dominant of the other males takes over his role. If the clownfish is unable to modify its method of reproduction, with accelerating climate change and reef destruction, it will be in serious trouble.

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