Coral Reefs

, 30:1005 | Cite as

Relative gut lengths of coral reef butterflyfishes (Pisces: Chaetodontidae)

  • M. L. Berumen
  • M. S. Pratchett
  • B. A. Goodman


Variation in gut length of closely related animals is known to generally be a good predictor of dietary habits. We examined gut length in 28 species of butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae), which encompass a wide range of dietary types (planktivores, omnivores, and corallivores). We found general dietary patterns to be a good predictor of relative gut length, although we found high variation among groups and covariance with body size. The longest gut lengths are found in species that exclusively feed on the living tissue of corals, while the shortest gut length is found in a planktivorous species. Although we tried to control for phylogeny, corallivory has arisen multiple times in this family, confounding our analyses. The butterflyfishes, a speciose family with a wide range of dietary habits, may nonetheless provide an ideal system for future work studying gut physiology associated with specialization and foraging behaviors.


Chaetodontidae Corallivory Papua New Guinea Relative gut length 



This project was funded in part by a National Science Foundation (USA) Graduate Research Fellowship to MLB.


  1. Al-Hussaini AH (1949) On the functional morphology of the alimentary tract of some fish in relation to differences in their feeding habits: anatomy and histology. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science S3-90:109–139Google Scholar
  2. Alino P, Coll J, Sammarco P (1992) Toxic prey discrimination in a highly specialized predator Chaetodon melannotus (Block et Schneider): visual vs. chemical cues. J Exp Mar Biol 164:209–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen GR, Steene R, Allen M (1998) A guide to angelfishes and butterflyfishes. Odyssey Publishing, PerthGoogle Scholar
  4. Bellwood DR, Klanten S, Cowman PF, Pratchett MS, Konow N, van Herwerden L (2010) Evolutionary history of the butterflyfishes (f: Chaetodontidae) and the rise of coral feeding fishes. J Evol Biol 23:335–349PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berumen ML, Pratchett MS (2008) Trade-offs associated with dietary specialization for corallivorous butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae: Chaetodon). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:989–994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berumen ML, Pratchett MS, McCormick MI (2005) Within-reef differences in diet and body condition of coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae). Mar Ecol Prog Ser 287:217–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blomberg SP, Garland T, Ives AR (2003) Testing for phylogenetic signal in comparative data: Behavioral traits are more labile. Evolution 57:717–745PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bouchon-Navaro Y (1986) Partitioning of food and space resources by chaetodontid fishes on coral reefs. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 103:21–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buddington RK, Diamond JM (1987) Pyloric ceca of fish: a “new” absorptive organ. Am J Physiol 252:G65–G76PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Coles SL, Strathmann R (1973) Observations on coral mucus “flocs” and their potential trophic significance. Limnol Oceanogr 18:673–678CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cox E (1994) Resource use by corallivorous butterflyfishes (Family Chaetodontidae) in Hawaii. Bull Mar Sci 54:535–545Google Scholar
  12. Crosby MP, Reese ES (1996) A manual for monitoring coral reefs with indicator species: butterflyfishes as indicators of change on Indo Pacific reefs. Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MarylandGoogle Scholar
  13. DeBusk BC, Slattery M, Ki J-S, Lee J-S, Aparicio-Fabre R, Schlenk D (2008) Species differences and effects of soft coral extracts from Sinnularia maximus on the expression of cytochrome P4501A and 2 N in butterflyfishes (Chaetodon spp.). Fish Physiol Biochem 34:483–492PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Elliott JP, Bellwood DR (2003) Alimentary tract morphology and diet in three coral reef fish families. J Fish Biol 63:1598–1609CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Felsenstein J (1985) Phylogenies and the comparative method. Am Nat 126:1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fessler JL, Westneat MW (2007) Molecular phylogenetics of the butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae): Taxonomy and biogeography of a global coral reef fish family. Mol Phylog Evol 45:50–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Freckleton RP, Harvey PH, Pagel M (2002) Phylogenetic analysis and comparative data: a test and review of evidence. Am Nat 160:712–726PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Garland TJ, Bennett AF, Rezende EL (2005) Phylogenetic approaches in comparative physiology. J Exp Biol 208:3015–3035PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. German DP, Horn MH (2006) Gut length and mass in herbivorous and carnivorous prickleback fishes (Teleostei: Stichaeidae): ontogenetic, dietary, and phylogenetic effects. Mar Biol 148:1123–1134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gochfeld DJ (2004) Predation-induced morphological and behavioral defenses in a hard coral: implications for foraging behavior of coral-feeding butterflyfishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 267:145–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gregson MA, Pratchett MS, Berumen ML, Goodman BA (2008) Relationships between butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae) feeding rates and coral consumption on the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 27:583–591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harvey P, Pagel M (1991) The comparative method in evolutionary biology. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  23. Hay ME, Fenical W (1988) Marine plant-herbivore interactions: The ecology of chemical defense. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 19:111–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Irons DK (1989) Temporal and areal feeding behaviour of the butterflyfish, Chaetodon trifascialis, at Johnston Atoll. Environ Biol Fishes 25:187–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kapoor BG, Smit H, Verighina IA (1975) The alimentary canal and digestion in teleosts. Adv Mar Biol 13:109–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Karasov WH, Diamond JM (1983) Adaptive regulation of sugar and amino acid transport by vertebrate intestine. Am J Physiol 245:G443–G462PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Karasov WH, Martínez del Rio C (2007) Physiological ecology: how animals process energy, nutrients, and toxins. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  28. Kramer DL, Bryant MJ (1995a) Intestine length in the fishes of a tropical stream: 1. Ontogenetic allometry. Environ Biol Fishes 42:115–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kramer DL, Bryant MJ (1995b) Intestine length in the fishes of a tropical stream: 2. Relationships to diet - the long and short of a convoluted issue. Environ Biol Fish 42:129–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kuiter RH (1995) Chaetodon lunulatus, a sibling species of C. trifasciatus, with observations on other sibling species of butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae). Revue Francaise d’Aquariologie 21:105–106Google Scholar
  31. Kuiter RH (2002) Butterflyfishes, bannerfishes and their relatives - a comprehensive guide to the Chaetodontidae & Microcanthidae. TMC Publishing, Chorleywood, UKGoogle Scholar
  32. Kung S–S, Ciereszko LS (1985) Occurrence of the wax cetyl palmitate in stomachs of the corallivorous butterfly fish Chaetodon trifascialis. Coral Reefs 4:45–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Levin DA (1976) The chemical defenses of plants to pathogens and herbivores. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 7:121–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 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
  35. Pratchett MS (2005) Dietary overlap among coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef. Mar Biol 148:373–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pratchett MS (2007) Dietary selection by coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Raffles Bull Zool S14:161–166Google Scholar
  37. R Development Core Team (2010) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN 3-900051-07-0, URL
  38. Raubenheimer D (1995) Problems with ratio analysis in nutritional studies. Func Ecol 9:21–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Raubenheimer D, Bassil K (2007) Separate effects of macronutrient concentration and balance on plastic gut responses in locusts. J Comp Physiol B 177:849–855PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rotjan RD, Lewis SM (2008) Impact of coral predators on tropical reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 367:73–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Starck JM (2005) Structural flexibility of the digestive system of tetrapods - patterns and processes at the cellular and tissue level. In: Starck JM, Wang T (eds) Physiological and ecological adaptations to feeding in vertebrates. Science Publishers, Enfield, pp 175–200Google Scholar
  42. Stevens CE (1989) Evolution of vertebrate herbivores. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica Supplementum (Denmark) 86:9–19Google Scholar
  43. Westneat MW (1995) Feeding, function and phylogeny: analysis of historical biomechanics in labrid fishes using comparative methods. Syst Biol 44:361–383Google Scholar
  44. Yang Y, Joern A (1994) Gut size changes in relation to variable food quality and body size in grasshoppers. Func Ecol 8:36–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. L. Berumen
    • 1
    • 2
  • M. S. Pratchett
    • 3
  • B. A. Goodman
    • 4
  1. 1.Red Sea Research CenterKing Abdullah University of Science and TechnologyThuwalKingdom of Saudi Arabia
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

Personalised recommendations