, Volume 184, Issue 3, pp 675–684 | Cite as

Aggression, interference, and the functional response of coral-feeding butterflyfishes

  • Shane A. Blowes
  • Morgan S. Pratchett
  • Sean R. Connolly
Community ecology – original research


Functional responses describing how foraging rates change with respect to resource density are central to our understanding of interspecific interactions. Competitive interactions are an important determinant of foraging rates; however, the relationship between the exploitation and interference components of competition has received little empirical or theoretical consideration. Moreover, little is known about the relationship between aggressive behavioural interactions and interference competition. Using a natural gradient of consumer and resource densities, we empirically examine how aggressiveness relates to consumer–consumer encounter rates and foraging for four species of Chaetodon reef fish spanning a range of dietary niche breadths. The probability of aggression was most strongly associated with both total consumer and resource densities. In contrast, total encounter rates were best predicted by conspecific consumer density, and were highest for the most specialised consumer (Chaetodon trifascialis), not the most aggressive (Chaetodon baronessa). The most specialised consumer, not the most aggressive, also exhibited the largest reduction in foraging rates with increasing consumer density. Our results support the idea of a positive link between the exploitation and interference components of competition for the most specialised consumer. Moreover, our results caution against inferring the presence of ecological interactions (competition) from observations of behaviour (aggression and agonism) alone.


Territoriality Butterflyfish Chaetodontidae Competition Coral reef Prey risk 



We thank James Cook University and the Australian Research Council for financial support; SAB was also supported by a Queensland Smart State Ph.D. fellowship. We thank E. Graham, S. Montanari, K. Nicolet, M. Norstad, and the staff of the Lizard Island Research Station for assistance in the field. We thank Craig Osenberg, Jeffrey Shima, and anonymous reviewers for constructive criticism that significantly improved this manuscript, and the JCU Ecological Modelling Research Group for support and feedback.

Authors’ contributions

SAB, MSP and SRC conceived and designed the research; SAB and MSP conducted the fieldwork; SAB analysed the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and all authors contributed to revisions.

Supplementary material

442_2017_3902_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1697 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shane A. Blowes
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Morgan S. Pratchett
    • 2
  • Sean R. Connolly
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Marine Biology and Aquaculture, College of Science and EngineeringJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (IDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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