Coral Reefs

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 1113–1123 | Cite as

The role of Thalassoma lunare as a predator of juvenile fish on a sub-tropical coral reef

  • T. H. Holmes
  • S. K. Wilson
  • M. Vanderklift
  • R. Babcock
  • M. Fraser


The process of predation causes significant mortality in coral reef fishes immediately following settlement. However, much of what we know of predator identity is based on a small number of detailed studies. This study aims to identify the key predator of early juvenile coral reef fishes on Ningaloo Reef, North-Western Australia. Video cameras were used to observe patch reefs stocked with newly settled reef fish in the back-reef area between 12:00 and 20:30 h. The cameras were fitted with >610 nm light sources to allow observation in low light conditions. All strikes (attempted and successful) on newly settled fish were recorded, along with the time spent in the vicinity of experimental patch reefs with or without juvenile fish. A total of 69 strikes were observed over the 199 h of recorded video footage, with the majority of strikes occurring mid-afternoon between 13:00 and 15:30 h. Only one strike was observed during the twilight period, an hour either side of sunset (~18:45 h), and no strikes were observed after this period. The moonwrasse, Thalassoma lunare, was responsible for the majority of strikes (75.4 %), with the sandperch (Parapercis clatharatha—10.1 %), spanish flag (Lutjanus carponotatus—5.8 %) and ring wrasse (Hologymnosus annulatus—2.9 %) the next highest contributors. T. lunare also spent significantly more time in the vicinity of reefs stocked with newly settled fish, than those without, during daylight hours. The results of the study are in contrast to the common perception that predation on newly settled fish is focused largely around crepuscular periods and suggests that diurnally active species, in particular T. lunare, are important predators of juvenile fish on the Ningaloo back-reef. The study also implies that generalist species can fulfil key functional roles and that the nature of these roles is not always apparent.


Predation Recruitment Coral reef fish Ningaloo Thalassoma lunare 



We wish to thank the Department of Environment and Conservation Exmouth district staff for their logistical support and field assistance. We also wish to thank Martial Depczynski, Paul Tinkler, Damian Thomson, Ryan Downie and Kylie Cook for their field assistance. This study was conducted through funding supplied by the Department of Environment and Conservation, AIMS, Western Australian Marine Science Institution Node 3, the CSIRO and the Australian National Network in Marine Science internship program.


  1. Albins MA, Hixon MA (2008) Invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans reduce recruitment of Atlantic coral-reef fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 367:233–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almany GR (2003) Priority effects in coral reef fish communities. Ecology 84:1920–1935CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Almany GR, Webster MS (2006) The predation gauntlet: early post-settlement mortality in coral-reef fishes. Coral Reefs 25:19–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beets J (1997) Effects of a predatory fish on the recruitment and abundance of Carribean coral reef fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 148:11–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bellwood DR, Hughes TP, Hoey AS (2006) Sleeping functional group drives coral-reef recovery. Curr Biol 16:2434–2439PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beukers JS, Jones GP (1997) Habitat complexity modifies the impact of piscivores on a coral reef fish population. Oecologia 114:50–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beukers-Stewart BD, Jones GP (2004) The influence of prey abundance on the feeding ecology of two piscivorous species of coral reef fish. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 299:155–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beukers-Stewart BD, Beukers-Stewart JS, Jones GP (2011) Behavioural and developmental responses of predatory coral reef fish to variation in the abundance of prey. Coral Reefs 30:855–864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Caley MJ (1995) Reef fish community structure and dynamics: an interaction between local and larger-scale processes? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 129:19–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carr MH, Hixon MA (1995) Predation effects on early post-settlement survivorship of coral-reef fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 124:31–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chiappone M, Sluka R, Sealey KS (2000) Groupers (Pisces: Serranidae) in fished and protected areas of the Florida Keys, Bahamas and northern Caribbean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 198:261–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Connell SD (1998) Patterns of piscivory by resident predatory reef fish at One Tree Reef, Great Barier Reef. Mar Freshw Res 49:25–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cote IM, Maljkovic A (2010) Predation rates of Indo-Pacific lionfish in Bahamian coral reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 404:219–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Danilowicz BS, Sale PF (1999) Relative intensity of predation on French grunt, Haemulon flavolineatum, during diurnal, dusk, and nocturnal periods on a coral reef. Mar Biol 133:337–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Depczynski M, Heyward A, Case M, Colquhoun, O’Leary R, Radford B, Wilson S, Holmes T (2011) Methods of monitoring the health of benthic communities at Ningaloo—coral and fish recruitment. Final report by AIMS to WAMSI as contribution to deliverables for WAMSI Project 3.1.2., p 121Google Scholar
  16. Doherty PJ, Dufour V, Galzin R, Hixon MA, Meekan MG, Planes S (2004) High mortality during settlement is a population bottleneck for a tropical surgeonfish. Ecology 85:2422–2428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Floeter SR, Guimaraes RZP, Rocha LA, Ferreira CEL, Rangel CA, Gasparini JL (2001) Geographic variation in reef-fish assemblages along the Brazilian coast. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 10:423–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gladfelter WB, Ogden JC, Gladfelter EH (1980) Similarity and diversity among coral reef fish communities: a comparison between tropical western Atlantic (Virgin Islands) and tropical central pacific (Marshall Islands) patch reefs. Ecology 61:1156–1168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gosselin LA, Qian PE (1997) Juvenile mortality in benthic marine invertebrates. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 146:265–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Heinlein JM, Stier AC, Steele MA (2010) Predators reduce abundance and species richness of coral reef fish recruits via non-selective predation. Coral Reefs 29:527–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Helfman GS (1986) Fish behavior by day, night and twilight. In: Pitcher TJ (ed) The behavior of teleost fishes. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp 366–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hiatt RW, Strasburg DW (1960) Ecological relationships of the fish fauna on coral reefs of the Marshall Islands. Ecol Monogr 30:65–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hobson ES (1972) Activity of Hawaiin reef fishes during the evening and morning transitions between daylight and darkness. Fish Bull 70:715–740Google Scholar
  24. Hoey AS, McCormick MI (2004) Selective predation for low body condition at the larval-juvenile transition of a coral reef fish. Oecologia 139:23–29PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ (2002) Competition for shelter space causes density-dependent predation mortality in damselfishes. Ecology 83:2855–2868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Holmes TH, McCormick MI (2006) Location influences size-selective predation on newly settled reef fish. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 317:203–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Holmes TH, McCormick MI (2009) Influence of prey body characteristics and performance on predator selection. Oecologia 159:401–413PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Holmes TH, McCormick MI (2010) Size-selectivity of predatory reef fish on juvenile prey. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 399:273–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hunt HL, Scheibling RE (1997) Role of early post-settlement mortality in recruitment of benthic marine invertebrates. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 155:269–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hutchins JB (1994) A survey of nearshore reef fish fauna of Western Australia’s west and south coasts—The Leeuwin Province. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement No. 46: 1–66Google Scholar
  31. Job SD, Shand J (2001) Spectral sensitivity of larval and juvenile coral reef fishes: implications for feeding in a variable light environment. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 214:267–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jones GP, McCormick MI, Srinivasan M, Eagle JV (2004) Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity in marine reserves. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:8251–8253PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kaufman L, Ebersole J, Beets J, McIvor CC (1992) A key phase in the recruitment dynamics of coral reef fishes: post-settlement transition. Environ Biol Fish 34:109–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kulbicki M (1995) Estimating demersal lagoonal fish stock in Ouvea, an atoll of New Caledonia. Joint FFA/SPC Workshop on the management of South Pacific Inshore Fisheries, Noumea, New Caledonia, June 1995, p 26Google Scholar
  35. Leis JM, McCormick MI (2002) The biology, behavior, and ecology of the pelagic, larval stage of coral reef fishes. In: Sale PF (ed) Coral reef fishes: dynamics and diversity in a complex ecosystem. Academic Press, London, pp 171–199Google Scholar
  36. Martin J (1994) Predation on juvenile coral reef fish at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef. Honurs thesis, School of Aquaculture and Marine Biology, James Cook University, TownsvilleGoogle Scholar
  37. McCormick MI, Makey L (1997) Post-settlement transition in coral reef fishes: overlooked complexity in niche shifts. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 153:247–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McCormick MI, Makey L, Dufour V (2002) Comparative study of metamorphosis in tropical reef fishes. Mar Biol 141:841–853CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McFarland WN (1991) The visual world of coral reef fishes. In: Sale PF (eds) The ecology of fishes on coral reefs. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 16–38Google Scholar
  40. Nagelkerken I, Dorenbosch M, Verberk WCEP, Cocheret de la Moriniere E, Van der Velde G (2000) Day-night shifts of fishes between shallow-water biotopes of a Caribbean bay, with emphasis on the nocturnal feeding of Haemulidae and Lutjanidae. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 194:55–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nelson BV, Vance RR (1979) Diel foraging patterns of the sea urchin Centrostephanus coronatus as a predator avoidance strategy. Mar Biol 51:251–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ogden JC, Ebersole JP (1981) Scale and community structure of coral reef fishes: a long-term study of a large artificial reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 4:97–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Randall JE (1967) Food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies. Contribution from the Institute of Marine Biology, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, p 186Google Scholar
  44. Sano M, Shimuzu M, Nose Y (1984) Food habits of teleostean reef fishes in Okinawa Island, Southern Japan. University of Tokyo Bulletin 25:1–128Google Scholar
  45. Shand J (1993) Changes in the spectral absorption of cone pigments during the settlement of the goatfish Upeneus tragula: the loss of red sensitivity as a benthic existence begins. J Comp Physiol A 173:115–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shulman MJ (1985) Coral reef assemblages: intra- and interspecific competition for shelter sites. Environ Biol Fish 13:81–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. St John J (2001) Temporal variation in the diet of a coral reef piscivore (Pisces: Serranidae) was not seasonal. Coral Reefs 20:163–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Steele MA, Forrester GE (2002) Early post-settlement predation on three reef fishes: effects on spatial patterns of recruitment. Ecology 83:1076–1091CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stewart BD, Beukers JS (2000) Baited technique improves censuses of cryptic fish in complex habitats. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 197:259–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stewart BD, Jones GP (2001) Associations between the abundance of piscivorous fishes and their prey on coral reefs: implications for prey-fish mortality. Mar Biol 138:383–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sweatman HPA (1984) A field study of the predatory behaviour and feeding rate of a piscivorous coral reef fish, the Lizardfish Synodus englemani. Copeia 1984:187–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Veron JEN, Marsh LM (1988) Hermatypic corals of Western Australia: records and annotated species list. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 29:1–136Google Scholar
  53. Webster MS (2002) Role of predators in the early post-settlement demography of coral-reef fishes. Oecologia 131:52–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Werner EE (1986) Amphibian metamorphosis: growth rate, predation risk, and the optimal size at transformation. Am Nat 128:319–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wilson SK, Depczynski M, Fisher R, Holmes TH, O’Leary RA, Tinkler P (2010) Habitat associations of juvenile fish at Ningaloo reef, Western Australia: the importance of coral and algae. PLoS One 5:e15185PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zeller DC (1997) Home range and activity patterns of coral trout Plectropomus leopardus (Serranidae). Mar Ecol Prog Ser 154:65–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. H. Holmes
    • 1
    • 2
  • S. K. Wilson
    • 1
    • 2
  • M. Vanderklift
    • 3
  • R. Babcock
    • 3
  • M. Fraser
    • 2
  1. 1.Marine Science Program, Science Division, Department of Environment and ConservationKensingtonAustralia
  2. 2.Oceans InstituteUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.CSIRO Wealth from Oceans FlagshipWembleyAustralia

Personalised recommendations