Coral Reefs

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 427–436 | Cite as

Cleaner wrasse influence habitat selection of young damselfish

  • D. Sun
  • K. L. Cheney
  • J. Werminghausen
  • E. C. McClure
  • M. G. Meekan
  • M. I. McCormick
  • T. H. Cribb
  • A. S. Grutter


The presence of bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, on coral reefs increases total abundance and biodiversity of reef fishes. The mechanism(s) that cause such shifts in population structure are unclear, but it is possible that young fish preferentially settle into microhabitats where cleaner wrasse are present. As a first step to investigate this possibility, we conducted aquarium experiments to examine whether settlement-stage and young juveniles of ambon damselfish, Pomacentrus amboinensis, selected a microhabitat near a cleaner wrasse (adult or juvenile). Both settlement-stage (0 d post-settlement) and juvenile (~5 weeks post-settlement) fish spent a greater proportion of time in a microhabitat adjacent to L. dimidiatus than in one next to a control fish (a non-cleaner wrasse, Halichoeres melanurus) or one where no fish was present. This suggests that cleaner wrasse may serve as a positive cue during microhabitat selection. We also conducted focal observations of cleaner wrasse and counts of nearby damselfishes (1 m radius) to examine whether newly settled fish obtained direct benefits, in the form of cleaning services, from being near a cleaner wrasse. Although abundant, newly settled recruits (<20 mm total length) were rarely (2 %) observed being cleaned in 20 min observations compared with larger damselfishes (58 %). Individual damselfish that were cleaned were significantly larger than the median size of the surrounding nearby non-cleaned conspecifics; this was consistent across four species. The selection by settlement-stage fish of a microhabitat adjacent to cleaner wrasse in the laboratory, despite only being rarely cleaned in the natural environment, suggests that even rare cleaning events and/or indirect benefits may drive their settlement choices. This behaviour may also explain the decreased abundance of young fishes on reefs from which cleaner wrasse had been experimentally removed. This study reinforces the potentially important role of mutualism during the processes of settlement and recruitment of young reef fishes.


Recruitment Ectoparasites Cleaning behaviour Damselfish Mutualism 



We thank F. Cortesi, M. De Brauwer, F. R. A. Jaine, J. E. Lange, A. Marshell, G. A. C. Phillips, and M. D. Mitchell for their help in the field; J. O. Hanson for statistical advice and S. C. Cutmore, R. Q-Y. Yong, A. Vail and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. We are particularly grateful for the support of the staff of the Lizard Island Research Station. This work was funded by a Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Australia grant awarded to D. Sun, A. S. Grutter and T. H. Cribb, funds from the Australian Research Council awarded to A. S. Grutter and M. G. Meekan and from The University of Queensland awarded to A. S. Grutter.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Sun
    • 1
  • K. L. Cheney
    • 1
  • J. Werminghausen
    • 1
  • E. C. McClure
    • 1
    • 2
  • M. G. Meekan
    • 3
  • M. I. McCormick
    • 2
  • T. H. Cribb
    • 1
  • A. S. Grutter
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceThe UWA Oceans Institute (M096)CrawleyAustralia

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