Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 61–78

Environmental determinants of butterflyfish social systems

  • Thomas F. Hourigan

DOI: 10.1007/BF00002201

Cite this article as:
Hourigan, T.F. Environ Biol Fish (1989) 25: 61. doi:10.1007/BF00002201


Butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) display a variety of social systems, including monogamous pair-bonds, harems, and schooling with group spawning. The range of reproductive options available to butterflyfishes is shaped by their general life history characteristics, such as broadcast spawning with widely dispersed pelagic larvae, large body size and low adult mortality. The distribution and quality of food resources are major determinants of group size and mobility, thereby influencing the relative costs and benefits of available options, and determining specific social systems. Planktivorous and corallivorous butterflyfishes exemplify the relationship between food resources and social systems. Pelagic plankton is a patchy, but temporally and spatially unpredictable food resource which is efficiently exploited by fish in mobile schools. Neither sex is able to monopolize food resources necessary for the other sex, and plantivorous butterflyfishes appear constrained to spawn in groups. In contrast, corals are stable and predictable in space and time, favoring residence in one area and territorial defense of that space by coral-feeding butterflyfishes. Females defend food resources from other females, and males defend territories containing a female from other males. Males attempt to defend areas containing more than one female, but are unsuccessful. A monogamous social system results. This system favors the evolution of cooperative behavior between mates to increase female fecundity, as long as the male has an opportunity of sharing in that reproduction. Mate removal experiments conducted on two monogamous coral-feeding species,Chaetodon multicinctus andChaetodon quadrimaculatus reveal a division of labor between male and female pair-mates. Paired males assume most of the territorial defense activities, allowing their mates to feed more.

Key words

Behavior Chaetodontidae Cooperation Coral reef fish Food resources Mating system Monogamy Plankton Reproduction 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas F. Hourigan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of HawaiiHonoluluU.S.A.
  2. 2.Laboratory of Reproductive BiologyNational Institute for Basic BiologyMyodaijichoJapan

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