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Damselfish comprise the family Pomacentridae except those of the genera Amphiprion and Premnas, which are the anemonefishes. They can grow up to 14 inches (36 cm) long. While most are marine, a few species inhabit the lower stretches of rivers in fresh water. Damselfish usually have bright colors.
Many species live in tropical coral reefs, and many of those are kept as marine aquarium pets, although some species such as white-spotted damselfish are too demanding for an average marine aquarium. Their diets include small crustaceans, plankton, and algae. However, many also live in temperate climates, such as the species which inhabits the coast of southern California and the Pacific Mexican coast, the garibaldi.
Aquarists often use damselfish to biologically stabilize a new aquarium. The fish is introduced when the aquarium is first populated, and helps provide beneficial bacteria. This practice is viewed negatively by some aquarists because of what they see as foul conditions and because other, slower, stabilization methods exist.
In the wild, the damselfish (Stegastes nigricans) cultivates red filamentous algae (Polysiphonia). At this time, garibaldi and damselfish are the only fish known to engage in farming or cultivating.
There is geographic variation in the damselfish/red-alga cultivation mutualism in the Indo-West Pacific. Damselfish are also known to be aggressive, especially the twospot domino damsel.
Farmer damselfish establish territories, chasing off other animals to allow algae to grow. They "weed" their territories, allowing only selected species to flourish. They fearlessly attack intruding divers.
Damselfish are a well-studied model for mating systems in fish. Extensive studies have been conducted on female choice, parental care, and filial cannabilism in the Stripetailed Damselfish.
In 2011, Dr Lisa Lobel's work at the Johnston Atoll on the impact of PCB contamination in Abudefduf sordidus demonstrated that embryonic abnormalities could be utilized as a metric for comparing contaminated and uncontaminated marine areas.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2006). "Pomacentridae" in FishBase. April 2006 version.
- Damselfish Are Also Known To Be Aggressive Especially The Twospot Domino Damsel BC-85.
- Murphy, Richard C. (2002). Coral Reefs: Cities Under The Seas. The Darwin Press, Inc. p. 29. ISBN 0-87850-138-X.
- Lobel, Lisa K (2011). "Toxic Caviar: Using Fish Embryos to Monitor Contaminant Impacts". In: Pollock NW, ed. Diving for Science 2011. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences 30th Symposium. Dauphin Island, AL: AAUS. Retrieved 2013-03-08.
- Tiny Damselfish May Destroy A Caribbean Reef National Public Radio, 11 August 2009.