Interactions between cleaning gobies and territorial damselfish on coral reefs

  • Arnal C
  • Câoté I
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We studied the interactions between cleaning gobies, Elacatinus spp., at cleaning stations and territorial dusky damselfish, Stegastesfuscus, on a Barbadian fringing reef to enhance our understanding of the behavioural impact of cleaning stations on members of a coral reef community. Cleaning stations within damselfish territories were visited by significantly fewer species and fewer individuals than those outside damselfish territories. At cleaning stations within damselfish territories, the main client was the territory holder itself. Client behaviour did not differ between the two types of cleaning station; however, cleaning gobies at stations within damselfish territories spent less time cleaning clients, their cleaning bouts were shorter, and their feeding rate on clients was slower. These effects appear to be due to the repeated aggression of territorial damselfish towards fish intruding on to their territories to visit cleaning stations. The overlap between a territorial damselfish and a cleaning station therefore appears to have detrimental impacts on cleaning goby foraging. The presence of cleaning stations within damselfish territories exerted some effects on the territory owners. Although the rates of intrusions were similar on territories with and without cleaning stations, damselfish with cleaning stations tended to chase intruders more often, had a lower foraging rate, and were at higher risk of egg predation because of increased intrusions by egg predators. A potential benefit to territorial damselfish is regular access to a cleaning station; however, the magnitude of this benefit is unknown. This study reveals that damselfish, which are ubiquitous on coral reefs, can generate significant variation in levels of use of cleaning stations, which leads to new questions relating to the settlement behaviour of both cleaning gobies and damselfish.

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  • Céline Arnal

  • Isabelle M. Câoté

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