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Global warming threatens 'Nemo' fish

BRISTOL, England, June 3 (UPI) -- Global warming could threaten marine clownfish, inspiration for the film "Finding Nemo," by making them unable to detect predators, U.K. researchers say.

Scientists at the University of Bristol discovered baby orange clownfish -- the same species as Nemo in Pixar's Oscar-winning 2003 animated film -- lost their ability to detect underwater noises made by potential predators when carbon dioxide pumped into their tanks rose to certain concentrations, The Independent reported Wednesday.

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High concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to increased marine levels can affect the sensitive hearing of fish, they said.

Marine fish could begin to go deaf by the middle of this century if ocean acidity from global warming reaches a threshold that hampers the ability of a fish's tiny "earbones" to pick up vibrations in the water caused by nearby predators, researchers said.

"What we have done here is to put today's fish in tomorrow's environment, and the effects are potentially devastating," said Bristol's Steve Simpson, lead author of the study published in the journal Biology Letters.

"We designed a totally new kind of experimental choice chamber that allowed us to play [coral] reef noise through an underwater speaker to fish in the lab and watch how they responded," Simpson said.

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"Fish reared in today's conditions swam away from the predator noise, but those reared in the carbon-dioxide conditions of 2050 and 2100 showed no response.

"Fish live in a very acoustically rich world and are often devoid of other senses such as vision," Simpson said. "If their sense of hearing is affected by changes in acidity, it would have wide-scale implications for a range of behaviors, from avoiding predators to choosing mates."

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