Growth, reproduction and survival of a tropical sea anemone (Actiniaria): benefits of hosting anemonefish
The ecological performance of the sea anemone Heteractis magnifica was examined during a 36-month experiment with respect to season and the presence and numbers of a mutualist (orange-fin anemonefish Amphiprion chrysopterus). Anemones primarily grew during the autumn, with most asexual reproduction occurring in winter, mortality was not strongly seasonal. Individual growth rates did not differ between anemones harboring one or two anemonefish, but these rates were three times faster than for anemones lacking Amphiprion. Anemones with two anemonefish had the highest fission rate, whereas those without anemonefish had the lowest. By contrast, anemones that were not defended by anemonefish suffered higher-than-expected mortality. As a consequence, anemones with two Amphiprion had the greatest net increase in surface area, and those lacking anemonefish had a negligible gain that was statistically indistinguishable from zero after three years. Anemonefish not only enhanced anemone survivorship as previously believed, they also fostered faster growth and more frequent asexual reproduction.