Marine Biology

, 163:200 | Cite as

Frequency and distribution of melanistic morphs in coexisting population of nine clownfish species in Papua New Guinea

  • Thane A. Militz
  • Mark I. McCormick
  • David S. Schoeman
  • Jeff Kinch
  • Paul C. Southgate
Original paper


Coral reef fishes exhibit extreme diversity in colouration, with many species being recognised as having colour polymorphism. While melanin-based colouration is known to occur in clownfishes (Pomacentridae), little is known about the frequency at which melanistic morphs occur in natural populations. The aim of this study was to assess the frequency of melanistic morphs in a coexisting population of nine clownfishes and to identify ecological covariates associated with morph distribution. In the Kavieng lagoonal system of Papua New Guinea (2°36ʹS, 150°46ʹE), melanistic morphs were found in Amphiprion chrysopterus (56 % of individuals), A. clarkii (29 %), A. percula (20 %), and A. polymnus (25 %) populations. A. leucokranos, A. melanopus, A. perideraion, A. sandaracinos, and Premnas biaculeatus populations were also surveyed, but were found to be without melanistic morphs. Unbiased recursive partitioning analyses identified a suite of interacting and conditional ecological factors encompassing social rank, host anemone species, and location effects as the primary factors predicting the distribution of melanistic morphs. Melanistic morphs were generally associated with host anemones from the genus Stichodactyla and with fish having a high social rank. The lack of a distinct melanistic morph locational ‘hot spot’ common to all species, despite locational coexistence, suggests that causative factors of location effects were different among species. Our results highlight the complexity of clownfish polymorphism associated with melanism, with multiple non-exclusive potential explanations identified for future investigation.


Reef Fish Social Rank Colour Morph Lagoonal System Colour Polymorphism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study was supported by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) and the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) under ACIAR project FIS/2010/054 ‘Mariculture Development in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea’ for which the University of the Sunshine Coast is the commissioned organisation. We are particularly grateful to H. Middleton and N. Piliman for assistance in the field and to the staff of the NFA Nago Island Mariculture and Research Facility for facilitating this research. We also thank three anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved earlier drafts of this publication. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Research was conducted in accordance with the Animal Ethics Guidelines of James Cook University under approval A2007.

Supplementary material

227_2016_2972_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (175 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 175 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thane A. Militz
    • 1
    • 5
  • Mark I. McCormick
    • 2
  • David S. Schoeman
    • 3
  • Jeff Kinch
    • 4
  • Paul C. Southgate
    • 5
  1. 1.Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture, College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Centre for Pacific Islands Research and School of Science and EngineeringUniversity of the Sunshine CoastMaroochydoreAustralia
  4. 4.National Fisheries CollegeNational Fisheries AuthorityKaviengPapua New Guinea
  5. 5.Australian Centre for Pacific Islands Research and Faculty of Science, Health, Education and EngineeringUniversity of the Sunshine CoastMaroochydoreAustralia

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