Menu

Education Today Logo

Anemones fight back against reef bleaching

News Image

They’re strong silent types anemones and they’re fighting back against high temperatures and bleaching.

Anemones’ ability to keep producing venom gives them an edge in surviving long-term changes to marine environments, Australian marine biology experts say.

‘Saving Nemo’ researchers at Flinders University have described the effects of extreme heatwaves and bleaching on anemone – the natural home of clownfish – showing they are not immune from climate change on our coral reefs.

“The loss of symbiotic photosynthetic algae under extreme climatic conditions causes whitening in colour, loss of internal food supply and reduction in health which can ultimately lead to death,” says Prof Karen Burke da Silva, from the College of Science and Engineering, who leads the global Saving Nemo conservation program.   

“However even under extended light-induced bleaching over five months, the sea anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) shows remarkable resilience in maintaining venom quality and quantity to stay alive,” she says.   

Despite the environmental stressors, the study showed the struggling marine invertebrates battled on to produce enough venom to maintain nematocyst production to capture prey during falls in internal algae food sources during the bleaching.

“One of the most venomous animals in the world, already under significant ecological threat due to rising pressure on marine environments, seems to use its amazing venom production as a last line of defence against climate change,” says Burke da Silva.

“Their resilience during times of high stress will aid in the their survival and consequently the survival of dependent anemonefish.”

It is also important for the symbiotic relationship with colourful ‘Nemo’ clownfish which rely on anemone for protection and shelter.

The anemone used in the study are endemic along the north-eastern coast of Australia from Far North Queensland to North Solitary Island, NSW. They have a thermal tolerance threshold between 25°C and 27°C, with average summer temperatures in this region hovering around 26 °C.   

“This species is at risk in Australian waters, as it is within 1 °C of its thermal threshold,” the researchers conclude.

The paper, ‘The Ecological Importance of Toxicity: Sea Anemones Maintain Toxic Defence When Bleached’ has been published online in Toxins as part of a special issue Toxicological Challenges of Aquatic Toxins (MDPI).

The survival of healthy marine ecosystems is being supported by the Flinders University Saving Nemo IC-Anemone website, encouraging citizen scientists around the world to record sightings.


26 Nov 2019 | Adelaide
New Venture Institute ranked best in Asia Pacific, second year running News Image

Flinders University’s New Venture Institute (NVI) has been tapped as one of the leading university business accelerators in the latest UBI World Benchmark study. Read More

26 Nov 2019 | National
A federal jobs guarantee demanded to prevent robots destroying jobs News Image

Australians are feeling insecure about how robots will effect their livelihoods, for good reason, any number of jobs from stock trading to manufacturing have been heavily impacted by automation. Read More

26 Nov 2019 | National
Code Camp free activity for Hour of Code News Image

Hour of Code, the global movement introducing computer science to over 100 million children worldwide, is running from 9–15 December 2019 during Computer Science Education Week. Read More

26 Nov 2019 | national
Creativity and 'feeling' needed to solve novel maths problems News Image

We used to believe that you’re either creative or you’re good at maths, as it turns out to be really good at maths you have to be very creative too as intuitive non-cognitive thought processes are vital. Read More

26 Nov 2019 | International
Github helps build new generation of coders News Image

Github is the go to resource for code and students in Australia are among the biggest users of the service and that number is growing.
Read More