Cleaner wrasse influence habitat selection of young damselfish

D. Sun, K.L. Cheney, J. Werminghausen, E.C. Mcclure, Mark Meekan, M.I. Mccormick, T.H. Cribb, A.S. Grutter

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© 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. The presence of bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, on coral reefs increases total abundance and biodiversity of reef fishes. The mechanism(s) that cause such shifts in population structure are unclear, but it is possible that young fish preferentially settle into microhabitats where cleaner wrasse are present. As a first step to investigate this possibility, we conducted aquarium experiments to examine whether settlement-stage and young juveniles of ambon damselfish, Pomacentrus amboinensis, selected a microhabitat near a cleaner wrasse (adult or juvenile). Both settlement-stage (0 d post-settlement) and juvenile (~5 weeks post-settlement) fish spent a greater proportion of time in a microhabitat adjacent to L. dimidiatus than in one next to a control fish (a non-cleaner wrasse, Halichoeres melanurus) or one where no fish was present. This suggests that cleaner wrasse may serve as a positive cue during microhabitat selection. We also conducted focal observations of cleaner wrasse and counts of nearby damselfishes (1 m radius) to examine whether newly settled fish obtained direct benefits, in the form of cleaning services, from being near a cleaner wrasse. Although abundant, newly settled recruits (<20 mm total length) were rarely (2 %) observed being cleaned in 20 min observations compared with larger damselfishes (58 %). Individual damselfish that were cleaned were significantly larger than the median size of the surrounding nearby non-cleaned conspecifics; this was consistent across four species. The selection by settlement-stage fish of a microhabitat adjacent to cleaner wrasse in the laboratory, despite only being rarely cleaned in the natural environment, suggests that even rare cleaning events and/or indirect benefits may drive their settlement choices. This behaviour may also explain the decreased abundance of young fishes on reefs from which cleaner wrasse had been experimentally removed. This study reinforces the potentially important role of mutualism during the processes of settlement and recruitment of young reef fishes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-436
Number of pages10
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number2
Early online date29 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


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