Coral Reefs

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 125-129

First online:

Cleaning to corallivory: ontogenetic shifts in feeding ecology of tubelip wrasse

  • A. J. ColeAffiliated withSchool of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University of North QueenslandARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University of North Queensland Email author 

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Cleaning and corallivory are two prevalent feeding modes among coral reef fishes. Some fishes exhibit ontogenetic shifts between cleaning behaviour and corallivory, suggesting some common physiological or morphological adaptations suited to these highly contrasting feeding habits. This study investigated ontogenetic changes in feeding behaviour for three species of coral-feeding wrasses (F: Labridae). All three species (Labrichthys unilineatus, Labropsis alleni and Diproctacanthus xanthurus) exhibited substantial changes in feeding behaviour from juvenile to adult size classes. While L. unilineatus was corallivorous throughout its entire life, the coral taxa consumed varied greatly with ontogeny. Labropsis alleni and D. xanthurus exhibited pronounced changes, with juveniles cleaning before a switch to obligate corallivory at approximately 3.5–5 cm. The ability of L. alleni and D. xanthurus to adopt a cleaning strategy may be a consequence and their close relationship to the obligate cleaner wrasses (Genus: Labroides).


Ontogeny Labridae Coral-feeding Cleaning behaviour Specialisation