Preferential use of one side of the body for cognitive or behavioural tasks (lateralization) is common in many animals, including humans. However, few studies have demonstrated whether lateralization is phenotypically plastic, and varies depending on the ecological context. We studied lateralization (measured as a turning preference) in the bridled monocle bream (Scolopsis bilineatus). This coral reef fish is commonly infected by a large, ectoparasitic isopod (Anilocra nemipteri) that attaches to the left or right side of its host’s head. Fish that were parasitized showed no turning bias with respect to the side on which the parasite had attached. On average, however, parasitised fish were significantly more lateralized (i.e. had a strong side bias) than unparasitized fish. The extent of lateralization declined significantly when we experimentally removed the parasite. Our results indicate that lateralization can vary with the ecological context. One possible explanation is that lateralization shortens the response time until fish flee after encountering a predator. A stronger side bias might be advantageous for parasitized individuals to overcome their recently documented lower maximum swimming speed.
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We thank the Lizard Island staff, C. Layton and C. Juan, for field assistance. The associate editor and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. DGR and SAB were supported by the Ian Potter Foundation Doctoral Fellowships at the Lizard Island Research Station (a facility of the Australian Museum), the Australian National University, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Total Diving Montreal.
Research was conducted under the Australian National University animal ethics permit A2012/02 and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority collection permit G12/34805.1. Animals were released at their site of capture at the end of the study and none were harmed as a result of the parasite removal.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Communicated by A. Pilastro
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Roche, D.G., Binning, S.A., Strong, L.E. et al. Increased behavioural lateralization in parasitized coral reef fish. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1339–1344 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1562-1
- Behavioural side bias
- Cymothoid isopod parasite
- Great Barrier Reef
- Morphological asymmetry
- Scolopsis bilineatus