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Sea anemones modify their hiding time based on their commensal damselfish


Animals often retreat to refugia when alarmed and the time they spend hiding reflects an economic decision that trades off reducing predation risk with other beneficial activities. Typically, refugia such as burrows are static, but some refugia are dynamic. For species with defensive mutualisms, hiding might be contingent on their mutualist's behaviour. We disturbed and quantified hiding time in magnificent sea anemones, Heteractis magnifica, and their associated domino damselfish, Dascyllus trimaculatus. We found that sea anemone hiding behaviour was dependent on the number and behaviour of their commensal fish: anemones emerged sooner when they had more associated fish and faster returning fish. Together, these results demonstrate that hiding behaviour can be influenced by the behaviour of a commensal; such dynamic mutualisms may be found in other systems.

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