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Nutrient transfer in a marine mutualism: patterns of ammonia excretion by anemonefish and uptake by giant sea anemones
Roopin, M.; Henry, R.P.; Chadwick, N.E. (2008). Nutrient transfer in a marine mutualism: patterns of ammonia excretion by anemonefish and uptake by giant sea anemones. Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 154(3): 547-556.
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Roopin, M.
  • Henry, R.P.
  • Chadwick, N.E.

    Many symbioses involve multiple partners in complex, multi-level associations, yet little is known concerning patterns of nutrient transfer in multi-level marine mutualisms. We used the anemonefish symbiosis as a model system to create a balance sheet for nitrogen production and transfer within a three-way symbiotic system. We quantified diel patterns in excretion of ammonia by anemonefish and subsequent absorption by host sea anemones and zooxanthellae under laboratory conditions. Rates of ammonia excretion by the anemonefish Amphiprion bicinctus varied from a high of 1.84 µmole g-1 h-1 at 2 h after feeding, to a basal rate of 0.50 µmole g-1 h-1 at 24–36 h since the last meal. Conversely, host sea anemones Entacmaea quadricolor absorbed ammonia at a rate of 0.10 µmole g-1 h-1 during the daytime in ammonia-enriched seawater, but during the night reduced their absorption rate to near zero, indicating that ammonia uptake was driven by zooxanthella photosynthesis. When incubated together, net ammonia excretion was virturally zero, indicating that host anemones absorbed most of the ammonia produced by resident fish. Adult anemonefish weighed about 11 g under laboratory conditions, but on the coral reef may reach up to 64 g, resulting in a maximal potential ammonia load of >200 µmole h-1 produced by two adult fish during daylight hours. In contrast, host sea anemones weighed about 47 g in the laboratory, but under field conditions, large individuals may reach 680 g, so their maximal ammonia clearance rates may reach about 70 µmole h-1 during the daytime. As such, the ammonia load produced by adult anemonefish far exceeds the clearance rate of host anemones and zooxanthellae. Ammonia transfer likely occurs mainly during the daytime, when anemonefish consume zooplankton and excrete rapidly, and in turn the zooxanthellae are photosynthetically active and drive rapid ammonia uptake. We conclude that zooplanktivorous fishes that form mutualisms with coral reef cnidarians may serve as an important link between open water and benthic ecosystems, through the transfer of large quantities of nutrients to zooxanthellate hosts, thus enhancing coral reef productivity.

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