RESEARCH ON the Great Barrier Reef has revealed that some young reef fish can choose when they mature and which sex they want to be when they grow up.
Research conducted by JP Hobbs, of the James Cook University, Townsville, focused on a colourful goby that lives in bushy corals. Announcing his research results at Fresh Science in Melbourne JP said, "We already know that lots of adult fish change sex.
Now we've discovered that juvenile fish also possess this flexible sexual development," he says. JP found that juveniles only mature when they meet an adult fish. If they meet a male fish they mature as females and vice versa.
"The big adult gobies muscle their way into the larger corals where they form a breeding pair."
"With all the larger corals occupied by breeding pairs, there are very few opportunities for a juvenile to `get lucky'. So it makes sense for a juvenile to delay maturing until it finds a partner and then to mature into the opposite sex of the newfound adult."
"We suspect this flexibility in juvenile sexual development also happens in many other reef fish.
After hatching, fish larvae drift onto reefs and have no idea as to how many males and females are on a reef," he explains. "Flexibility in sexual development will enable a juvenile to mature into the best sex for obtaining a mate."
"It's important that we understand what is happening with these fish as there are implications for conservation :
The coral goby only lives in bushy corals which are very much vulnerable to coral bleaching; Aquaculture: to get the best growth rates, farmers need to understand how to stop fish from maturing; Fisheries management: sex-changing fish require different types of management practices."
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