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Clean Fish Learn Better

March 12, 2018

Reef fish make better decisions when smaller fish keep them clean.

Transcript

Cleaner wrasse attending to a reef fish. (Simon Gingins)

A cleaner wrasse attending to a reef fish. (Simon Gingins)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Clean thinking fish. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

External parasites can make Australian reef fish sick. But smaller fish called “cleaner” wrasse gain nutrients by eating the parasites off of the larger fish – a win-win for both parties. Now, a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that reef fish which receive regular cleanings from the wrasse perform better on cognitive tests. University of Montreal biologist Sandra Binning’s team assessed the problem-solving skills of the reef fish by giving them visual discrimination tasks.

SANDRA BINNING (University of Montreal):

Individuals that did not have access to the cleaner wrasse found it much more difficult to solve this task than individuals that were getting their parasites removed.

HIRSHON:

Binning thinks the parasites may sap resources from the reef fishes’ brains. The research highlights the importance of protecting both types of fish to ensure a healthy reef. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard

Sandra Binning checks on one of her fish and gives it a tasty meal of fish flakes for breakfast, at the Lizard Island Research Station, in Far North Queensland, Australia. (Dominique Roche)

Sandra Binning checks on one of her fish and gives it a tasty meal of fish flakes for breakfast, at the Lizard Island Research Station, in Far North Queensland, Australia. (Dominique Roche)