Some damselfish have sensitive stomachs, but they certainly aren’t in distress. They can hold their own, researchers have recently determined, by diligently farming their preferred algae crops.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Stegastes nigricans–otherwise known as the “dusky farmer fish”–has a bit of a green fin, but researchers rarely see such dedication to farming chores in a marine animal. They watched as this fish yanked out less digestible types of algae from their crops and threw them aside to make room for their preferred varieties, like the delicious red Polysiphonia.
As reported by Discovery News, researchers at Ehime University looked at 320 territories of 18 damselfish species from coral reefs from Thailand to the Great Barrier Reef. Though the fish in different locales preferred different regional algae flavors, they all exhibited a drive to cultivate. Hata and colleagues also raised similar crops themselves without the fish. They were no match for the fish farmers, and their crops soon overflowed with unwanted algae weeds.
They published their findings online today in BMC Evolutionary Biology. Researchers believe that the relationship is beneficial to the algae too and call it “cultivation mutualism.” Besides raising their own plots of land, the fish also fought for their turf, raising their pitchforks, so to speak, against sea urchins and other fish.
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