Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 79–93 | Cite as

Butterflyfish social behaviour, with special reference to the incidence of territoriality: a review

  • Callum M. Roberts
  • Rupert F. G. Ormond


Butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) are among the best studied of coral reef fishes. Feeding ecology and some aspects of behaviour have been firmly established. However, spacing behaviour remains controversial. Two major studies made in the 1970s concluded that the majority of species were not territorial. We suggest that these and other studies which have concluded that territories are not held have generally suffered from short observation periods, and have not mapped the ranges occupied by individuals. Further, low frequencies of agonistic behaviour have been interpreted as evidence of non-territoriality. By contrast, studies which have proven territoriality have had long observation periods and have mapped ranges. These have shown that territories are usually maintained with very little overt aggression. Spacing behaviour and feeding behaviour are clearly linked, with territoriality common among benthic-feeding species, especially obligate corallivores. Species with broad dietary flexibility tend to have flexible social systems, while plankton feeders are usually gregarious. The widespread occurrence of monogamy in butterflyfishes appears linked to territoriality, the majority of territorial species identified to date occurring predominantly as pairs. Data currently available suggest that this is because pair defence of the territory is more efficient than by individuals. However, several alternative hypotheses for the evolution of monogamy based on spawning constraints and predation risk cannot yet be ruled out.

Key words

Chaetodontidae Monogamy Aggression Coral reef fish Foraging behaviour Juvenile 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Callum M. Roberts
    • 1
  • Rupert F. G. Ormond
    • 1
  1. 1.Tropical Marine Research Unit, Department of BiologyUniversity of YorkYorkUK

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