Coral Reefs

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 125–129 | Cite as

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

  • A. J. Cole


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 



This study was completed in partial fulfilment of an honours degree in Marine Biology at James Cook University. The author greatly appreciates the assistance of T. Petray who helped collect field data. Thanks to M. Pratchett, G. Jones and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


  1. Arnal C, Verneau O, Desdevises Y (2006) Phylogenetic relationships and evolution of cleaning behaviour in the family Labridae: importance of body colour pattern. J Evol Biol 19:755–763CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bellwood DR (1988) Ontogenetic changes in the diet of early post-settlement Scarus species (Pisces: Scaridae). J Fish Biol 33:213–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Breck JE, Gitter MJ (1983) Effect of fish size on the relative distance of bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). Environ Biol Fish 56:317–324Google Scholar
  4. Chen L (2002) Post-settlement diet shift of Chlorurus sordidus and Scarus schlegeli (Pisces: Scaridae). Zool Stud 41:47–58Google Scholar
  5. Choat JH (1991) Biology of herbivorous fishes on coral reefs. In: Sale PF (ed) The ecology of fishes on coral reefs. Academic Press, San Diego, California, pp 120–155Google Scholar
  6. Cole AJ, Pratchett MS, Jones JP (2008) Diversity and functional importance of coral-feeding fishes on tropical coral reefs. Fish Fish 9:286–307Google Scholar
  7. Cole AJ, Pratchett MS, Jones JP (2009) Corallivory in tubelip wrasses: diet, feeding and trophic importance. J Fish Biol (in press)Google Scholar
  8. Côté IM (2000) Evolution and ecology of cleaning symbiosis in the sea. Oceanogr Mar Biol Annu Rev 38:311–355Google Scholar
  9. Galis F (1993) Morphological constraints on behaviour through ontogeny: the importance of development constraints. Mar Freshw Behav Physiol 23:119–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gorlick DL, Atkins PD, Losey GS (1978) Cleaning stations as water holes, garbage dumps, and sites for the evolution of reciprocal altriusm. Am Nat 112:341–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grutter AS (2004) Cleaner fish use tactile dancing behaviour as a preconflict management strategy. Curr Biol 14:1080–1083CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Harmelin-Vivien ML (1989) Implications of feeding specializations on the recruitment processes and community structure of butterflyfishes. Environ Biol Fish 25:101–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hughes TP, Baird AH, Bellwood DR, Card M, Connolly SR, Folke C, Grosberg R, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Jackson JBC, Kleypas J, Lough JM, Marshall P, Nystrom M, Palumbi SR, Pandolfi JM, Rosen B, Roughgarden J (2003) Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301:929–933CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Leis JM, Piola RF, Hay AC, Wen C, Kan K (2009) Ontogeny of behaviour relevant to dispersal and connectivity in the larvae of two non-reef demersal, tropical fish species. Mar Freshw Res 60:211–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lieske E, Myers R (2001) Coral reef fishes: Indo-Pacific and Caribbean. Harper Collins Publishers, MilanGoogle Scholar
  16. McCormick MI (1998) Ontogeny of diet shifts by a microcarnivorous fish, Cheilodactylus spectabilis: relationship between feeding mechanics, microhabitat selection and growth. Mar Biol 132:9–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. McIlwain JL, Jones GP (1997) Prey selection by an obligate coral-feeding wrasse and its response to small-scale disturbance. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 155:189–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mummert JR, Drenner RW (1986) Effect of fish size on the filtering efficiency and selective particle ingestion of a filter-feeding clupeid. Trans Am Fish Soc 115:522–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Peterson CC, McIntyre P (1998) Ontogenetic diet shifts in Roeboides affinis with morphological comparisons. Environ Biol Fish 53:105–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Potts GW (1973) Cleaning symbiosis among British fish with special reference to Crenilabrus melops (Labridae). J Mar Biol Assoc U K 53:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pratchett MS, Berumen ML, Marnane MJ, Eagle JV, Pratchett DJ (2008) Habitat associations of juvenile versus adult butterflyfishes. Coral Reefs 27:541–551CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Randall JE (2005) Reef and shore fishes of the South Pacific: New Caledonia to Tahiti and the Pitcairn Islands. University of Hawai’i Press, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  23. Schael DM, Rudstam LG, Post JR (1991) Gape limitation and prey selection in larval yellow perch (Perca flavescens), freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) and black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus). Can J Fish Aquat Sci 48:1919–1925CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. St John J (1999) Ontogenetic changes in the diet of the coral reef grouper Plectropomus leopardus (Serranidae): patterns in taxa, size and habitat of prey. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 180:233–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stummer LE, Weller JA, Johnson ML, Côté IM (2004) Size and stripes: how fish clients recognize cleaners. Anim Behav 68:145–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Tibbetts IR, Carseldine L (2005) Trophic shifts in three subtropical Australian halfbeaks (Teleostei: Hemiramphidae). Mar Freshw Res 56:925–932CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wainwright PC (1988) Morphology and ecology: Functional basis of feeding constraints in Caribbean labrid fishes. Ecology 69:635–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wainwright PC, Bellwood DR (2002) Ecomorphology of feeding in coral reef fishes. In: Sale PF (ed) Coral reef fishes: Dynamics and diversity in a complex ecosystem. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 33–55Google Scholar
  29. Westneat MW, Alfaro ME (2005) Phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary history of the reef fish family Labridae. Mol Phylogenet Evol 36:370–390CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Youngbluth MJ (1968) Aspects of the ecology and ethnology of the cleaning fish Labroides phthirophagus Randall. Z Tierpsychol 25:915–932Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia

Personalised recommendations