, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 261-273

The social organization of adult blue tangs, Acanthurus coeruleus, on a fringing reef, Barbados, West Indies

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Abstract

Blue tangs in Barbados exhibit three distinct social modes: territorial, schooling and wandering. We compared the mobility, foraging, aggression performed and received and the use of cleaning stations of adult blue tangs among modes and among habitats within a single fringing reef in Barbados. Evidence from observed switches during focal observations and multiple observations of tagged individuals indicate that fish are either territorial or non-territorial. Non-territorial fish formed schools and wandered. However, wandering can be used during solitary movements by fish in either type. Fish in the territorial mode, not previously described in adults of this species, restricted activity to a small area overlapping the territories of other tangs. They actively chased conspecifics and were chased mostly by damselfishes. They swam more slowly and fed at higher rates than other modes. Fish in the schooling mode ranged widely in compact, polarized groups of conspecifics, congeners and other species. They were not aggressive and were attacked mostly by damselfishes. They swam rapidly and fed at intermediate rates. Fish in the wanderer mode showed neither aggression nor association with other individuals. They swam rapidly, well above the substrate, fed little, were chased by conspecifics, ocean surgeonfish, A. bahianus, and damselfish and visited cleaning stations more often then other modes. All three modes were observed in all four main zones of the reef, and their behaviour changed quantitatively with habitat type. We suggest that territoriality reduces competition for algal food, schooling allows fish to overcome the food defence by damselfish, tangs and ocean surgeonfish, and wandering permits solitary movement over the reef to cleaning stations, feeding sites and other resources.