Mutualism is defined as the interaction of two species of organisms that benefits both. Obligate mutualists survive only by association; facultative mutualists, while benefitting from the presence of one another, may also survive in the absence of each other. I am beginning preliminary research to further understand the mutualistic relationship between clownfish and sea anemones.
Several theories exist as to the ways in which these organisms help one another:
- The territorial clownfish protect the anemone from anemone-eating fish.
- The stinging tentacles of the anemone protect the clownfish from its predators, while a mucus layer on the clownfish protects it from the stinging tentacles.
- The clownfish lures in other fish that are stung and consumed by the anemone.
- The clownfish increases oxygenation around the anemone and removes its waste material.
I am interested in determining through mathematical modeling whether clownfish and sea anemones are facultative, obligate, or obligate-with-thresholds mutualists and whether or not their mutualism is symmetric. I will also investigate how the size of the anemone and the number of clownfish residing within the anemone's tentacles affect each other.
To be determined:
- which species of clownfish to focus on: Amphiprion ocellaris (common clownfish) or Amphiprion percula (true clownfish)
- which species of anemone to focus on: Heteractis magnifica (Ritteri anemone) or Stichodactyla gigantea (giant carpet anemone)
- what type of model to implement