, Volume 141, Issue 5, pp 841-853

Comparative study of metamorphosis in tropical reef fishes

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This study explores the types of changes in pigmentation and morphology that occur immediately after settlement in 13 families of tropical reef fishes encompassing 34 species. The morphology of individual fishes was recorded daily from when they were first caught at night as they came into the vicinity of a reef to settle. Changes in pigmentation and morphology were species specific and often varied greatly among species within a family or genus. Pigmentation changes were typically rapid (<36 h) and dramatic. Morphological changes involved the elongation and regression of fin spines and changes in head shape and body depth. Eighteen percent of species experienced changes in snout shape and dorsal spine length of greater than 5%. Similarly, 15% experienced changes in pectoral fin length and head length of greater than 5%. Changes typically occurred gradually over 6 or more days, although in about 44% of the species the major change in one of the measured body dimensions occurred rapidly (within 36 h). Moderately strong positive relationships were found between both growth and developmental rates and the extent of metamorphosis in the damselfishes (Pomacentridae) (r=0.48 and 0.63, respectively). This suggests there may be a minimum level of development necessary to be a fully functional demersal juvenile. Although many of the changes that occur are subtle compared to the preceding development, these changes occur at an important ecological transition.

Published online: 16 August 2002
Communicated by G.F. Humphrey, Sydney