Tina Barbasch

Resource availability influences how much care clownfish parents provide

Contributed by: Tina Barbasch @BarbaschTina



Animals, Aquatic, Behavioral Ecology, Conservation, Ecology, Fundamental research, Lab, Marine, North America, Woman



Note: click the gear symbol to see notes that accompany the presentation

View and download in google slides here



Tina A. Barbasch and Peter M. Buston. 2018. Plasticity and personality of parental care in the clown anemonefish. Animal Behaviour 136:65-72 link

Raising Nemo: Parental care in the clown anemonefish http://datanuggets.org/raising-nemo/



Slide 1: Researcher’s Background

Tina is a behavioral ecologist at Boston University studying how and why parents provide care to their offspring using clownfish (aka Nemo) as a study system.

PB: Why did you become a biologist?
TB: I first became interested in science catching frogs and snakes in my backyard in Ithaca, NY. This inspired me to major in Biology at Cornell University, located in my hometown. As an undergraduate, I studied male competition and sperm allocation in the local spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum. Now I love learning and studying about all types of animals and their unique ecology and behavior!

PB: What is your favorite part about your job?
TB: I love being to interact with the organisms I am studying. One of my favorite things is sitting and watching animals and discovering new and interesting behaviors. Plus clownfish are adorable!

PB: What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are?
TB: Currently, women earn more than 50% of graduate degrees, but as of 2015, only 32% of faculty positions are held by women. This gap is driven primarily by disparities in STEM fields. Because of this, finding strong female role models in academia was tough, but critical to building my confidence and providing a sense of belonging in the field. I have been fortunate throughout my career to have found inspiring women as role models, and I strive to be a good role model for the next generation of scientists!

PB: What advice do you have for aspiring biologists?
TB: Biology is such a diverse field, so explore as many topics as possible, and follow your passion!

PB: Do you feel that any dimension of your identity is invisible or under-represented/marginalized in STEM?
TB: Maybe

PB: Can you elaborate on your answer above?
TB: Women are still underrepresented at the highest levels of academia, but it is changing and I am hopeful that things are only going to get better and more inclusive


Slide 2: Research Overview

Take home message of study

Parents can play a pivotal role in offspring development, but providing care is often costly for parents. For example, when parents invest time, energy, and resources in their young, they are unable to invest as much in other activities, like finding food for themselves. In this study, when clownfish parents were fed a low ration of food, on average both males and females provide less care for their eggs than when they are fed a high ration of food. However, there was substantial variation among individuals and among males and females in the amount of care provided, suggesting that parental care may be influenced by many other aspects of the changing coral reef environment in which the fish live.

Study system

Photos of clownfish providing care, the researcher, and the lab. The photos on the left show clownfish parents caring for their eggs (eggs are attached to the rock). The photo on the top right shows researchers setting up a camera to take videos of the fish and the photo on the bottom right shows Tina (left) with other members of her lab. The glowing blue tanks around them all contain clownfish!


Slide 3: Key Research Points

Main figure

Individual responses to changing feeding treatment (low ration: L; high ration: H) for males and females. Shown are the amount of care provided by males and females for three different parental behaviors, in 15 minute observations of (a) tending, the amount of time the parent spent within one body length of the clutch; (b) mouthing, the number of times the parent cleans the eggs with its mouth; and (c) fanning, the number of times the parent fans the eggs with its fins to oxygenate them. Thin colored lines represent the response of each individual to the two feeding treatments, and the thick black line represents the average population response. Note that male and female behaviors are on different scales. On average, parents increased their parental behaviors when fed a high compared to a low ration, but there is substantial variation among individuals in how they responded. Additionally, males provided more care overall and more different types of care than females.



Societal Relevance

Studying how parents respond to their environment is critical to understanding whether and how organisms will be able to adapt our rapidly changing environment. The decisions parents make over how much care to provide can influence the survival and development of their offspring. Therefore changes in the parental environment can have consequences for future generations.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: