Ichthyological Research

, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 10–17 | Cite as

Trophic niches of thirteen damselfishes (Pomacentridae) at the Grand Récif of Toliara, Madagascar

  • Bruno Frédérich
  • Grégory Fabri
  • Gilles Lepoint
  • Pierre Vandewalle
  • Eric Parmentier
Full Paper


The damselfishes, with more than 340 species, constitute one of the most important families that live in the coral reef environment. Most of our knowledge of reef-fish ecology is based on this family, but their trophic ecology is poorly understood. The aim of the present study was to determine the trophic niches of 13 sympatric species of damselfishes by combining stable isotope (δ15N and δ13C) and stomach content analyses. Isotopic signatures reveal three main groups according to their foraging strategies: pelagic feeders (Abudefduf sexfasciatus, A. sparoides, A. vaigiensis, Chromis ternatensis, C. dimidiata, Dascyllus trimaculatus and Pomacentrus caeruleus), benthic feeders (Chrysiptera unimaculata, Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus and Amphiprion akallopisos) and an intermediate group (D. aruanus, P. baenschi and P. trilineatus). Stomach contents reveal that planktonic copepods and filamentous algae mainly represent the diets of pelagic feeders and benthic feeders, respectively. The intermediate position of the third group resulted from a partitioning of small planktonic prey, small vagile invertebrates and filamentous algae. In this last feeding group, the presence of a wide range of δ13C values in P. trilineatus suggests a larger trophic niche width, related to diet-switching over time. Some general considerations about the feeding habits of damselfishes reveal that their choice of habitat on the reef and their behavior appear to be good predictors of diet in this group. Benthic (algae and/or small invertebrates) feeders appear to be solitary and defend a small territory on the bottom; zooplankton feeders remain in groups just above the reef, in the water column.


Feeding habits Pomacentrids Stable isotopes Stomach contents 


  1. Allen GR (1991) Damselfishes of the world. Mergus, Melle, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson GRV, Ehrlich AH, Roughgarden JD, Russel BC, Talbot FH (1981) The community structure of coral reef fishes. Am Nat 117:476–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barel CDN (1983) Towards a constructional morphology of cichlid fishes (Teleostei, Perciformes). Neth J Zool 33:357–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bearhop S, Adams CE, Waldron S, Fuller RA, Macleod H (2004) Determining trophic niche width: a novel approach using stable isotope analysis. J Anim Ecol 73:1007–1012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bootsma HA, Hecky RE, Hesslein RH, Turner GF (1996) Food partitioning among Lake Malawi nearshore fishes as revealed by stable isotope analysis. Ecology 77:1286–1290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ceccarelli DM (2007) Modification of benthic communities by territorial damselfish: a multi-species comparison. Coral Reefs 26:853–866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coates D (1980) Prey-size intake in humbug damselfish, Dascyllus aruanus (Pisces, Pomacentridae) living within social groups. J Anim Ecol 49:335–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cocheret de la Morinière E, Pollux BJA, Nagelkerken I, Hemminga MA, Huiskes AHL, Van der Velde G (2003) Ontogenetic dietary changes of coral reef fishes in the mangrove-seagrass-reef continuum: stable isotopes and gut-content analysis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 246:279–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Colwell RK, Fuentes ER (1975) Experimental studies of the niche. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 6:281–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. DeNiro MJ, Epstein S (1981) Influence of diet on the distribution of nitrogen isotopes in animals. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 45:341–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Emery AR (1973) Comparative ecology and functional osteology of fourteen species of damselfish (Pisces: Pomacentridae) at Alligator Reef, Florida Keys. Bull Mar Sci 23:649–770Google Scholar
  12. Ferry-Graham LA, Wainwright PC, Bellwood DR (2001) Prey capture in long-jawed butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae): the functional basis of novel feeding habits. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 256:167–184PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gobler CJ, Thibault DB, Davis TW, Curran PB, Peterson BJ, Liddle LB (2006) Algal assemblages associated with Stegastes sp. Territories on Indo-Pacific coral reefs: characterization of diversity and controls on growth. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 336:135–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hata H, Kato M (2002) Weeding by the herbivorous damselfish Stegastes nigricans in nearly monocultural algae farms. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 237:227–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hobson ES, Chess JR (1978) Trophic relationships among fishes and plankton in the lagoon at Enewetak atoll, Marshall Islands. Fish Bull 76:133–153Google Scholar
  16. Hyslop EJ (1980) Stomach contents analysis—a review of methods and their application. J Fish Biol 17:411–429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kuo SR, Shao KT (1991) Feeding habits of damselfish (Pomacentridae) from the southern part of Taiwan. J Fish Soc Taiwan 18:165–176Google Scholar
  18. Lecchini D, Galzin R (2005) Spatial repartition and ontogenetic shifts in habitat use by coral reef fishes (Moorea, French Polynesia). Mar Biol 147:47–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Leis JM, Carson-Ewart BM (2002) In situ settlement behavior of damselfish (Pomacentridae) larvae. J Fish Biol 61:325–346Google Scholar
  20. Ormond RFG, Roberts JM, Jan RQ (1996) Behavioural differences in microhabitat use by damselfishes (Pomacentridae): implications for reef fish biodiversity. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 202:85–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mann DA, Sancho G (2007) Feeding ecology of the domino damselfish, Dascyllus albisella. Copeia 3:566–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mariscal RN (1970) The nature of the symbiosis between Indo-Pacific anemone fishes and sea anemones. Mar Biol 6:58–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Motta PJ (1988) Functional morphology of the feeding apparatus of ten species of Pacific butterflyfishes (Perciformes, Chaetodontidae): an ecomorphological approach. Environ Biol Fish 22:39–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nelson JS (2006) Fishes of the world. Wiley, Hoboken, NJGoogle Scholar
  25. Noda M, Kawabata K, Gushima K, Kakuda S (1992) Importance of zooplankton patches in foraging ecology of the planktivorous reef fish Chromis chrysurus (Pomaentridae) at Kuchinoerabu Island, Japan. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 87:251–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Parmentier E, Das K (2004) Commensal vs. parasitic relationship between Carapini fish and their hosts: some further insight through δ13C and δ15N measurements. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 310:47–58Google Scholar
  27. Peterson BJ, Fry B (1987) Stable isotopes in ecosystem studies. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 18:293–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pinnegar JK, Polunin NVC (1999) Differential fractionation of δ13C and δ15N among fish tissues: implications for the study of trophic interactions. Funct Ecol 13:225–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pratchett MS (2005) Dietary overlap among coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef. Mar Biol 148:373–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Silvertown J (2004) Plant coexistence and the niche. Trends Ecol Evol 19:605–611CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Streelman JT, Danley PD (2003) The stages of vertebrate evolutionary radiation. Trends Ecol Evol 18:126–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wainwright PC (1988) Morphology and ecology: functional basis of feeding constraints in caribbean labrid fishes. Ecology 69:635–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 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, San Diego, CA, pp 33–57Google Scholar
  34. Wainwright PC, Bellwood DR, Westneat MW, Grubich JR, Hoey AS (2004) A functional morphospace for the skull of labrid fishes: patterns of diversity in a complex biomechanical system. Biol J Linn Soc 82:1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Waldner RE, Robertson DR (1980) Patterns of habitat partitioning by eight species of territorial caribbean damselfishes (Pisces: Pomacentridae). Bull Mar Sci 30:171–186Google Scholar
  36. Wellington GM, Victor BC (1989) Planktonic larval duration of one hundred species of Pacific and Atlantic damselfishes (Pomacentridae). Mar Biol 101:557–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Ichthyological Society of Japan 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruno Frédérich
    • 1
  • Grégory Fabri
    • 1
  • Gilles Lepoint
    • 2
  • Pierre Vandewalle
    • 1
  • Eric Parmentier
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Morphologie fonctionnelle et évolutive, Institut de Chimie (B6c)Université de LiègeLiègeBelgium
  2. 2.MARE, Laboratoire d’Océanologie, Institut de Chimie (B6c)Université de LiègeLiègeBelgium

Personalised recommendations