Coexistence Of Nine Anemonefish Species: Differential Host And Habitat Utilization, Size And Recruitment

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Marine Biology (berlin)




The region of Madang, Papua New Guinea, has the highest reported species diversity of both anemonefishes (nine species) and their host anemones (ten species). To determine which factors may allow so many anemonefish species to coexist at this location, we studied their patterns of distribution, abundance, and recruitment. Population surveys at three replicate reef sites within four zones situated at varying distances from the mainland (nearshore, mid-lagoon, outer barrier, and offshore) indicated that each species of host anemone and anemonefish lived within a particular range of zones. Each species of anemonefish lived primarily with one species of host. Anemonefish species that lived with the same host species usually had different distribution patterns among zones (e.g., Amiphiprion percula occupied Heteractis magnifica in nearshore zones, while A. perideraion occupied H. magnifica in offshore zones). Monitoring of natural populations showed that there were few changes (losses or recruitment) in the number or species of fishes associated with each individual anemone over periods ranging from 3 to 9 months. Recruitment was monitored on anemones with and without residents (resident fishes were removed) within each of three zones (nearshore, mid-lagoon, outer barrier). Significantly more anemonefishes recruited to anemones without resident fishes than to anemones with resident fishes. Each anemonefish species recruited to particular host species and zones. The distribution and abundance of the recruits of each fish species among zones were positively correlated with the distribution and abundance of resident fishes in the benthic habitat. This suggests that the spatial patterns of recruitment among zones strongly determined the distribution and abundance patterns of the benthic populations, and they were not the result of post-recruitment mortality or movement. Coexistence of the nine anemonefish species on the limited anemone resource was considered possible because of niche differentiation (i.e., differences in host and habitat utilization among zones), and the ability of two small species (i.e., Amphiprion sandaracinos and A. leucokranos) to cohabit individual anemones with other anemonefish species.