GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: 1997

A special mucous coating that serves as a chemical camouflage allows clown fish to live among the deadly tentacles of the unsuspecting sea anemone . Utterly dependent on this unlikely host for protection from predators, clown fish have evolved in isolated communities, a pattern that has led to unusual behavioral adaptations.

The rigidly defined hierarchy of each clown-fish community is dominated by a monogamous breeding pair consisting of the largest fish, a female, and the next largest a male, attended by a fixed number of sexually immature fish ranging in size from large to tiny. A remarkable adaptation is that the development of these juveniles is somehow arrested until the hierarchy changes; then they crow in lockstep, maintaining their relative sizes. While the community thus economizes on limited space and food resources, life is risky for newly spawned clown fish. On hatching, the hundreds of larvae drift off into the plankton. If, within three weeks, the defenseless larval clown fish locates a suitable anemone(either by pure chance or per- haps guided by chemicals secreted by the anemone), it may survive. However, if an anemone is fully occupied, the resident clown fish will repel any newcomer.

Though advantageous for established community members, the suspended and staggered maturation of juveniles might seem to pose a danger to the continuity of the community: there is only one successor for two breeding fish. Should one of a pair die, the remaining fish cannot swim off in search of a mate, nor is one likely to arrive. It would seem inevitable that reproduction must sometimes have to halt, pending the chance arrival and maturation of a larval fish of the appropriate sex.

This, however, turns out not to be the case. In experiments, vacancies have been contrived by removing an established fish from a community. Elimination of the breeding male triggers the prompt maturation of the largest juvenile. Each remaining juvenile also grows somewhat, and a minuscule newcomer drops in from the plankton. Removal of the female also triggers growth in all remaining fish and acceptance of a newcomer, but the female is replaced by the adult male. Within days, the male's behavior alters and physiological transformation is complete within a few months. Thus, whichever of the breeding pair is lost, a relatively large juvenile can fill the void, and reproduction can resume with a minimal loss of time. Furthermore, the new mate has already proved its ability to survive.

This transformation of a male into a female, or pro- tandrous hermaphroditism, is rare among reef fish. The more common protogynous hermaphroditism, where females change into males, does not occur among clown fish. An intriguing question for further research is whether a juvenile clown fish can turn directly into a female or whether it must function first as a male.

Question List: 1 2 3 4

The passage is primarily concerned with

  • A analyzing the mutually advantageous relationship between two species
  • B comparing two forms of hermaphroditism among clown fish
  • C describing and explaining aspects of clown-fish behavior
  • D outlining proposed research on clown-fish reproduction
  • E attempting to reconcile inconsistent observations of clown-fish development

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