Coral Reefs

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 1083–1095 | Cite as

High prevalence of homing behaviour among juvenile coral-reef fishes and the role of body size

  • Robert P. Streit
  • David R. Bellwood


Adult coral-reef fishes display a remarkable ability to return home after being displaced. However, we know very little about homing behaviour in juvenile fishes. Homing behaviour in juvenile fishes is of interest because it will shape subsequent spatial distributions of adult fish communities. Comparing multiple species, families and functional groups allows us to distinguish between species-specific traits and more generalised, species-independent traits that may drive homing behaviour. Using displacement experiments of up to 150 m, we quantified homing behaviour of juvenile, newly recruited reef fishes of seven species in three families, including herbivorous parrotfishes and rabbitfishes, carnivorous wrasse and planktivorous damselfishes. All species showed the ability to home successfully, but success rates differed among species. Juvenile parrotfishes were the most successful (67% returning home), while return rates in the other species ranged from 10.5% (Siganus doliatus) to 28.9% (Coris batuensis). However, across all species body size appeared to be the main driver of homing success, rather than species-specific traits. With every cm increase in body size, odds of returning home almost tripled (170% increase) across all species. Interestingly, the probability of getting lost was not related to body size, which suggests that mortality was not a major driver of unsuccessful homing. Homing probability halved beyond displacement distances of 10 m and then remained stable. Higher likelihood of homing over short distances may suggest that different sensory cues are used to navigate. Overall, our results suggest that homing ability is a widespread trait among juvenile reef fishes. A ‘sense of home’ and site attachment appear to develop early during ontogeny, especially above taxon-specific size thresholds. Hence, spatial flexibility exists only in a brief window after settlement, with direct implications for subsequent patterns of connectivity and ecosystem function in adult reef fish populations.


Coral reef resilience Ontogeny Site fidelity Site attachment Spatial resilience Space use 



We thank C Goatley, C Hemingson, V Huertas, M Mihalitsis and R Morais for helpful discussions. Special thanks to J Khan, S Tebbett and P O’Brien for field assistance, and the staff at Lizard Island Research Station for their support. Furthermore, we are grateful to three reviewers, whose detailed comments on a previous version significantly improved the manuscript. This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (DRB) and the Australian Government, Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship (RPS).

Supplementary material

338_2017_1600_MOESM1_ESM.docx (251 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 250 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Science and Engineering, Marine Biology and EcologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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