//
you're reading...

Biology

Odd Couples ♥ Tales of Symbiosis in the Ocean

Bioluminescent bacteria, like Aliivibrio fischeri, form symbiotic relationships with many marine organisms. See this Oceanbites article about how such a relationship develops in deep-sea rattails. [Wikimedia]

Bioluminescent bacteria, like Aliivibrio fischeri, form symbiotic relationships with many marine organisms. See this Oceanbites article about how such a relationship develops in deep-sea rattails. [Wikimedia]

In honour of the most romantic time of the year, our “Sea of Love” theme week has featured posts about mating behaviour, sexual selection, and other relationships in the ocean. To kick off a week of excellent articles, let’s visit some of the oddest couples in the deep blue, because sometimes love can hide in the strangest places.

Sometimes you can’t make it on your own, especially in the ocean. Luckily, many underwater inhabitants have formed, or co-evolved with, some interesting relationships to help them cope. Symbiosis (“living together”) describes a close and long-term interaction between different species. These biological exchanges are further defined by how the relationship affects the species involved, such as mutualism (both partners benefit), commensalism (one partner benefits, the other is unaffected), and parasitism (the parasite benefits at the expense of the host).

Clownfish shelter in anemones

 Just keep swimming, just keep swimming… [looya via Flickr]

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming… [looya via Flickr]

The most famous example of marine symbiosis, thanks to the adventures of Marlin, Dory, and Nemo, is between a little orange fish and a squishy, tentacled animal. Clownfishes (Amphiprion spp. and Premnas biaculeatus) are native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, and form obligatory (required for survival) mutualistic relationships with anemone(s). Clownfish benefit by sheltering themselves and their eggs from dangers in the stinging tentacles of the anemone. They also feed on any of the predatory anemone’s leftovers.

The clownfish is protected from the anemone’s stringing nematocysts by a thick, slimy mucus layer. The mucous is quite specialized – when clownfish move into a new home, they have to slowly build up their immunity by lightly brushing against the tentacles.

The anemone benefits as the clownfish removes parasites and provides nutrients from its leftovers and waste. Clownfish, in spite of their name, are also quite territorial and aggressive, and will actively discourage butterflyfish and other anemone-munchers from nibbling on its partner’s limbs. Their constant swimming about and fin-fanning also helps circulate water to the inner tentacles, refreshing oxygen and mineral supplies.

Check out some cool videos about the relationship here and here.

Shrimp room with gobies

This could be a sitcom. [Wikimedia]

This could be a sitcom. [Wikimedia]

Pistol shrimp (Alpheus spp.) and gobies (Amblyeleotris spp.) are best buddies, and room together as part of another mutualistic relationship.

True companions, the strong-armed shrimp digs the hole, and the larger goby protects it. It’s actually pretty adorable. The shrimp relies on the goby’s good eyesight to fend off threats, and repays his friend with a safe place to hide and sleep. The shrimp even checks in with the goby before venturing outside to forage, and will brush the fish with its antennae to stay in contact.

Click here to check out a cute video with some extra info on these BFFs.

Man o’ war fish stalk a venomous colony

The Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis) looks like a jellyfish, but is actually a siphonophore, and is composed of a colony of tiny, specialized individual animals. These strange creatures spend their entire lives drifting in the open ocean, pushed along by a combination of winds, currents, and tides.

Both man o’ wars drift across the ocean, entirely dependent upon chance encounters with winds, currents, and prey to survive. [Sean Nash via Flickr]

Both man o’ wars drift across the ocean, entirely dependent upon chance encounters with the elements, and prey, to survive. [Sean Nash via Flickr]

They have no means of propulsion outside of natural forces, and sometimes end up in shallow bays and beaches (recently in New Jersey, the UK, and North Carolina), where they have to be carefully removed.

Avoid these purple and pink balloons on the beach. [Wikimedia]

Avoid these purple and pink balloons on the beach – the tentacles can sting for hours after washing up on shore. [Wikimedia]

Unlike clownfish, man o’ war fish (Nomeus gronovii) do not build a significant mucous barrier. They are relatively resistant, and have at least one antigen (an important early step in the immune response) in its skin to its host’s toxin.

N. gronovii has a lot of verterbrae (41!), which may aid in it’s agility. It is also a medial/paired fin swimmer, relying on its pectorl (side) fins, a propulsion method specialized to manuvering in tight spaces. [Sean Nash via Flickr]

N. gronovii has extra vertebrae (41!), which may aid in it’s agility. It is also relies on its pectoral (side) fins when swimming, a propulsion method specialized for tight spaces. [Sean Nash via Flickr]

Instead, the fish rely mostly on their agility to dodge the large, trailing tentacles (dactylozooides) of their host. In this commensal relationship, the fish nibbles on the smaller tentacles and reproductive organs located beneath the siphonophore’s gas bladder. In addition to the open buffet, sheltering in a “floating terror” protects the fish from predators. The siphonophore does not seem to benefit much from its escorts, but their presence of small fish may help attract prey items to be captured in tentacles.

Boxer crabs wear anemones

Anemones must be pretty cool dudes, because they get along with crabs (Lybia tesselata) just as well as clownfish.

Float like a butterflyfish, sting like an anemone. [Rebecca Tse via Flickr]

Float like a butterflyfish, sting like an anemone. [Rebecca Tse via Flickr]

 In this mutualistic relationship, the crabs add some extra punch to their claws with the anemone’s stingers, while the anemone gets to pick up whatever leftovers float its way from the crab’s mouth (crabs are messy eaters). Sometimes the crabs will even swing their pom-poms back and forth to try and intimidate potential predators. Should the crab lose one of its anemones, it unceremoniously rips the other in two, since anemones can re-generate after bisection.

Cleaner fish do free dental work

Cleaner fishes (a subset of gobies, wrasses, and shrimp) set up shop near coral reefs, and take all sorts of walk-in patients, with which they have a mutualistic relationship. The larger animals (or divers) swim up and allow the cleaners to pick out parasites, dead skin cells, and mucus from their bodies. The cleaner fish benefit from the free, low-risk meal, and from the temporary protection of associating with more intimidating fish. Watch these guys do their job here (skip to the 2 min mark).

Cleaner wrasses bravely pick at parasites and food particles around the mouths of a grouper and an eel. [Wikimedia]

What’s interesting about cleaner fish is they usually follow an obvious colour (blue and yellow) or marking (horizontal stripes) scheme, termed “conspicuous colouration.” This signals their job to other fish, and helps them avoid being eaten when they swim into the mouths of their clients. The patients will also communicate, and show their peaceful intentions by changing colour, holding their mouths open, or swimming vertically.

Interspecies interactions & evolution

The conspicuous colouration of many cleaner fishes, like this Caribbean cleaner goby (Elacatinus evelynae), is an example of convergent evolution – many species developing similar features independently. This simplifies the “cleaner fish” signal, and facilitates the cleaner-client relationship. [Wikimedia]

The conspicuous colouration of many cleaner fishes, like this Caribbean cleaner goby (Elacatinus evelynae), is an example of convergent evolution – a case of many species developing similar features independently. This simplifies the “cleaner” signal, and supports the cleaner-client relationship. [Wikimedia]

Many of these very special symbiotic relationships have existed for a long time, and reflect the co-evolution of their participant species. Symbiosis is increasingly being recognized as a major selective force driving evolution, like predation or competition. In fact, the evolution of all eukaryotes (plants, fungi, animals, and protists) is theorized to have resulted from symbiosis between various bacteria, which eventually became important intracellular structures, like mitochondria and chloroplasts.

On a related note,  Charles Darwin’s 207th birthday is coming up (February 12th, 2016), and we’ll have a special article out to celebrate, so make sure you check it out.

We’ll also be continuing with  awesome “Sea of Love” articles all  this week. The poll to pick the theme for March will go live soon, so remember to  vote for your favourite!

Discussion

3 Responses to “Odd Couples ♥ Tales of Symbiosis in the Ocean”

  1. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥v

    Posted by hello | May 5, 2021, 11:46 am
  2. A very interesting piece, this one. Sidney Holt

    Posted by Sidney Holt | February 8, 2016, 4:21 am

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com