Coral Reefs

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 91-100

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Toxic coral gobies reduce the feeding rate of a corallivorous butterflyfish on Acropora corals

  • M. DirnwoeberAffiliated withFaculty of Life Sciences, Department of Integrative Zoology, University of Vienna Email author 
  • , J. HerlerAffiliated withFaculty of Life Sciences, Department of Integrative Zoology, University of Vienna


The obligate coral-dwelling gobiid genus Gobiodon inhabits Acropora corals and has developed various physiological, morphological and ethological adaptations towards this life habit. While the advantages of this coral-fish association are well documented for Gobiodon, possible fitness-increasing factors for the host coral are unknown. This study examines the influence of coral-dwelling gobies on the feeding behaviour of obligate corallivorous butterflyfishes. In an aquarium experiment using video observation, the corallivorous butterflyfish Chaetodon austriacus fed significantly less on corals inhabited by two Gobiodon species compared to unoccupied coral colonies of similar size. The more agonistic species G. histrio, which mostly displayed directed movements towards butterflyfishes, decreased butterflyfish bite rate by 62–98 % compared to uninhabited colonies. For Gobiodon sp. 3, which mostly displayed undirected movements in response to visits by C. austriacus, bite rate reduction was 64–68 %. The scale-less skin of Gobiodon spp. is covered by mucus that is toxic and multi-functional by reducing predation as well as affecting parasite attachment. A choice flume experiment suggests that the highly diluted skin mucus of Gobiodon spp. also functions as a corallivore repellent. This study demonstrates that Gobiodon spp. exhibit resource defence against coral-feeding butterflyfishes and also that coral colonies without resident Gobiodon suffer higher predation rates. Although the genus Gobiodon is probably a facultative corallivore, this study shows that by reducing predation on inhabited colonies by other fishes, these obligate coral-dwellers either compensate for their own fitness-decreasing impact on host colonies or live in a mutualistic association with them.


Gobiodon Chaetodon austriacus Coral-fish association Resource defence Selective corallivory Red Sea