Growing Nemo: UF scientist to lead research into improved clownfish production

Aquarium enthusiasts love clownfish, best known as the featured species in the movies “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”

Recognizing their popularity – and some of the hurdles the industry currently faces– a University of Florida scientist is working with other UF researchers and colleagues in Rhode Island to improve culture methods for this species.

They’re looking to address what they define as bottlenecks in the process of producing clownfish.

“Clownfish are arguably the most popular marine ornamental fish in the aquarium trade and easily the most recognizable,” said Matt DiMaggio, a faculty member at the Tropical Aquaculture Lab and Florida Sea Grant affiliate researcher and the principal investigator on a new, $749,000 grant from NOAA Sea Grant.”

“Our project should help to increase production efficiency and profitability for those who produce marine ornamental fish. We will be looking at how to better raise larvae and grow juveniles to market size, which is one to two inches long,” said DiMaggio, a UF/IFAS associate professor of fisheries and aquatics sciences.

DiMaggio will work with other UF scientists along with researchers at Roger Williams University (RWU).

At RWU, Andy Rhyne, a professor of marine biology, runs one of the few ornamental research laboratories in the United States. He is an expert in marine ornamental trade data, and he’s been using clownfish for various research projects in his lab for the last several years.

In this new research project, scientists will test modifications to nutrition and culture practices that may hep to improve survival, increase growth rates and reduce the incidence of deformities in clownfish. Culture practices can include things like how many fish should be raised together, what light cycle to use, how much water flow they need and more.

DiMaggio and his colleagues also want to better define the markets, purchasing preferences and production costs for this species. Individual fish can get pricey and sell for $20 all the way up to $700, depending on factors such as color and body shape.

Another aspect of the project will focus on ways to eliminate the use of zooplankton, which are fed to clownfish larvae. Live zooplankton is expensive to grow and maintain, and raising the zooplankton requires significant investments of time and labor. Researchers also plan to study the causes of deformities in clownfish, examining everything from culture environment to genetics.

“After we have identified some of the causes of the deformities, we can attempt to develop mitigation strategies,” DiMaggio said. “Once we have developed refined production protocols, we can conduct an economic analysis to assess the viability of instituting these new methods.”


Above photo, courtesy, Casey Murray, UF/IFAS.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.  |  @UF_IFAS


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Posted: October 11, 2022

Category: UF/IFAS
Tags: Aquarium Fish, Clownfish, Finding Dory, Finding Nemo, Grant, Matt DiMaggio, National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, Nutrition, Production, Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory

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