IN THE wake of increasing coral bleaching events, a new study shows clownfish can distinguish if their anemone habitat is bleached or healthy through smell.
The research paper, co-authored by Southern Cross University's Dr Anna Scott and Danielle Dixson, from the University of Delaware, also said the iconic fish are inflexible when it comes to selecting other anemone species as habitat.
Dr Scott, who is based at the university's National Marine Science Centre, said clownfish were behaviourally linked to one or a few anemone species, meaning bleaching events were likely to impact their populations.
"Understanding the negative impacts of declining habitat quality on these species is crucial, given that bleaching events are becoming increasingly common," Dr Scott said.
"Not only are these species iconic, but they are also ecologically important and there are real risks to species survival if bleaching events continue to increase in frequency and severity."
The study tested five clownfish species and three host sea anemones to determine if they could smell the presence of bleaching anemones.
The fish were individually placed in an experimental chamber containing two streams of water flowing at identical rates but containing different chemical cues.