A new study from the University of Delaware finds that anemone bleaching in the Indo-Pacific Ocean could lead to localized extinctions of clownfish.
Clownfish have a symbiotic relationship with anemones. The fish provide food to the anemones in exchange for protection.
The research finds clownfish will choose to live on a bleached anemone over a healthy alternative, according to the author of the study, Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor of marine science and policy at the University of Delaware.
“So that just shows that if that species of anemone bleaches faster than some of the other anemones those fish won’t change their mind on where they’re going to live,” she said.
This inflexibility to change habitat is bad because a bleached anemone can no longer provide protection from predators, according to Dixson.
Climate change and El Niño, have increased water temperatures and created the current prolonged bleaching in the Indo-Pacific.
Clownfish were made popular by their leading roles in the animated film Finding Nemo and its upcoming sequel Finding Dory. Their populations are also threatened by the ornamental fish trade and pollution.