Distribution, diversity, and anemonefish associations of host sea anemones (Actiniaria) in the eastern Red Sea

  • Morgan Bennett-Smith

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The relationship between clownfish and sea anemones is a beloved and iconic example of marine symbiosis. However, ecological information in the eastern Red Sea about the endemic Red Sea clownfish, Amphiprion bicinctus, and its host sea anemones remains relatively incomplete. For example, previous studies report that A. bicinctus forms mutualistic relationships with three to five host anemone species in the Red Sea. But the reported number and combination of host anemone species varies substantially among sources and little is known about host anemone distributions at different scales on the eastern coastline. To better understand the ecology of A. bicinctus and its host sea anemones, we conducted 70 surveys in three regions of Saudi Arabia and one region in Djibouti. We then analyzed distribution patterns for all anemone species observed in these regions, to attain deeper knowledge of anemone habitat usage and relative abundance. We recorded six host sea anemone species associated with A. bicinctus in the Red Sea, one of which represents a new case of symbiosis, and we identified differences in species composition and abundance across different reef scales. We noted patterns of decreasing anemone diversity with increasing latitude, beginning at 20° N, and greater overall anemone abundance in the central Red Sea. We also used field and laboratory observations to examine anemonefish abundance, survival, and fecundity on different species of anemones at different life history stages. In sum, this thesis collectively identifies eastern Red Sea anemone hosts for A. bicinctus, evaluates their regional and fine-scale distributions, and assesses how different anemone species impact their anemonefish occupants on different levels.
Date of AwardApr 2020
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorMichael Berumen (Supervisor)


  • Sea anemones
  • Actiniaria
  • Red Sea ecology
  • Amphiprion bicinctus
  • Cnidaria
  • Anemonefish

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