Anemone points the way to shrimp's cleaning station

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How do you locate a cleaner shrimp? Look for a sea anemone, suggests the results of a paper to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

Pederson shrimp (Ancylomenes pedersoni) are effective cleaners in the Caribbean Sea, but they are small and inconspicuous, making it difficult for reef fishes to locate them.

Lisa Huebner and Nanette Chadwick carried out a series of experiments in which they showed that the fishes look for the Corkscrew anemone (Bartholomea annulata), with which the shrimp forms an obligatory symbiotic relationship, to help them locate the shrimp.

Carrying out their studies in the US Virgin Islands, the authors compared anemone characteristics with fish visitation rates, as well as manipulating the visibility of anemones and cleaner shrimp in field experiments using mesh covers.

They found that the fishes visited larger anemones and those that had more crustaceans living on it more often.

The fishes did not respond to the effect of covering the shrimp, the anemone or both, consistently. However, the fishes posed for cleaning at stations only where anemones remained visible, regardless of whether shrimp were visible.

Shrimp at stations where anemones were covered also performed fewer cleaning interactions with fishes, as fishes did not continue to pose when anemones were not visible. The authors conclude that the anemones serve as visual cues to help client fishes locate cleaner shrimp.

For more information, see the paper: Huebner, LK and NE Chadwick (2012) Reef fishes use sea anemones as visual cues for cleaning interactions with shrimp. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2012.01.004

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