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Marine Symbiosis

There are many types of symbiotic relationships in the ocean, and you can even view some in your home aquarium.

By Scott W. Michael

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Aquarium Fish InternationalOne of the most fascinating features of tropical reef ecosystems is seeing the many symbiotic relationships between organisms. Corals use unicellular algae that act as a solar-powered energy source, and hitchhiking remoras clean sharks of parasites and share their dinner scraps. The coral reef is a venue where such partnerships have developed to benefit one or both of the participating species. What makes these relationships even more fascinating is that we can observe many of them in our own home aquariums. Some of these relationships are well-known to aquarists, while others are not.

Symbiosis: The Breakdown
The word “symbiosis” is derived from ancient Greek and literally means “living with.” It was first used in reference to the interactions between living organisms in 1877. In later years, the term was refined to refer only to interactions between “unlike” organisms (not members of the same or similar species). The organisms involved in symbiotic interactions are known as symbionts; for example, both the clownfish and the anemone it lives in are symbionts. If one of the organisms in a symbiotic association is a passive participant, it is known as the host. In the aforementioned example, the anemone is the host.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the July 2012 issue of Aquarium Fish International today.

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