Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 72, Issue 4, pp 443–453 | Cite as

Determinants of social organization in a coral reef fish, the blue tang, Acanthurus coeruleus

  • Ingrid E. Morgan
  • Donald L. Kramer


We examined the abundance of blue tang surgeonfish, Acanthurus coeruleus, in each of three social modes (schooling, territorial, and wandering) in relation to size class, ecological variables, population density and time of day to discern potential determinants of social organization. We found individuals from all three social modes in all four fringing reef habitats (back reef, flat, crest and spur and groove zones) at our main site. Territorial tang density was highest in the flat zone, lowest in the spur and groove zone and negatively related to adult damselfish density. A higher proportion of tangs formed schools in reef zones with the highest densities of territorial damselfishes (spur and groove, crest). In the back reef and flat zones, where damselfish densities were very low, tangs rarely formed schools. Tangs in the wandering mode were most abundant in the back reef. The density of territorial tangs did not change with time of day, but non-territorial tangs tended to wander more in the morning and to form schools more at midday. Small yellow-phase juveniles were always territorial, and the incidence of territoriality decreased in the larger size classes, while schooling and wandering increased. Among similar fringing reefs, the incidence of territoriality increased with increasing population density. These data suggest that life history stage, damselfish density, and conspecific population density are important determinants of blue tang social organization.


damselfish surgeonfish school social system territory 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alevizon, W.S. 1976Mixed schooling and its possible significance in a tropical western Atlantic parrotfish and surgeonfishCopeia1978796798Google Scholar
  2. Barlow, G.W. 1974aExtraspecific imposition of social grouping among surgeonfishes (Pisces: Acanthuridae)J. Zool. Lond.174333340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barlow, G.W. 1974bContrasts in social behaviour between Central American cichlid fishes and coral-reef surgeon fishesAm. Zool.14934Google Scholar
  4. Bell, T., Kramer, D.L. 2000Territoriality and habitat use by juvenile blue tangs, Acanthurus coeruleusEnviron. Biol. Fish.58401409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, J.L. 1969Territorial behavior and population regulation in birdsWilson Bull.81293329Google Scholar
  6. Carpenter, R.C. 1990Mass mortality of Diadema antillarum II. Effects on population densities and grazing intensity of parrotfishes and surgeonfishesMar. Biol.1047986CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chapman, M.R., Kramer, D.L. 2000Movements of fishes within and among fringing coral reefs in BarbadosEnviron. Biol. Fish.571124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Craig, P. 1996Intertidal territoriality and time-budget of the surgeonfish, Acanthurus lineatus, in American SamoaEnviron. Biol. Fish.462736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Day, R.W., Quinn, G.P. 1989Comparisons of treatments after an analysis of variance in ecologyEcol. Monogr.59433463Google Scholar
  10. Emlen, S.T., Oring, L.W. 1977Ecology, sexual selection and the evolution of mating systemsScience197215223PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Foster, S.A. 1985Group foraging by a coral reef fish: a mechanism for gaining access to defended resourcesAnim. Behav.33782792Google Scholar
  12. Grant, J.W.A. 1993Whether or not to defend the influence of resource distributionMari. Behav. Physiol.23137153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grutter, A.S., Hendrikz, J. 1999Diurnal variation in the abundance of parasitic gnathiid isopod larvae on coral reef fish: its implications in cleaning interactionsCoral Reefs18187191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Helfman, G.E. 1978Patterns of community structure in fishes: summary and reviewEnviron. Biol. Fish.3129148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Helfman, G.S., Meyer, J.L., McFarland, W.N. 1982The ontogeny of twilight migration patterns in grunts (Pisces: Haemulidae)Anim. Behav.30317326Google Scholar
  16. Hourigan, T.F. 1986An experimental removal of a territorial pomacentrid: effects on the occurrence and behaviour of competitorsEnviron. Biol. Fish.15161169Google Scholar
  17. Hourigan, T.F. 1989Environmental determinants of butterflyfish social systemsEnviron. Biol. Fish.256178Google Scholar
  18. Lessios, H.A., Robertson, D.R., Cubit, J.D. 1984Spread of Diadema mass mortality through the CaribbeanScience222715Google Scholar
  19. Lewis, J.B. 1960The coral reefs and coral communities of BarbadosW.I Cana. J. Zool.3811331145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lewis, J.B. 2002Evidence from aerial photography of structural loss of coral reefs at Barbados, West IndiesCoral Reefs214956Google Scholar
  21. Lott, D.F. 1991Intraspecific Variation in the Social Systems of Wild VertebratesCambridge University PressCambridge238Google Scholar
  22. Luckhurst, B.E., Luckhurst, K. 1978Analysis of the influence of substrate variables on coral reef fish communitiesMar. Biol.49317323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Maher, C.R., Lott, D.F. 2000A review of ecological determinants of territoriality within vertebrate speciesAm. Midland Nat.143129Google Scholar
  24. Montgomery, W.L. 1981Mixed-species schools and the significance of vertical territories of damselfishesCopeia1981477481Google Scholar
  25. Morgan, I.E. 2003The behaviour and ecology of social organization in a Caribbean surgeonfishM.Sc. ThesisMcGill University112Google Scholar
  26. Morgan, I.E., Kramer, D.L. 2004The social organization of adult blue tangs, Acanthurus coeruleus, on a fringing reef, Barbados, West IndiesEnviron. Biol. Fish.71261273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ogden, J.C., Buckman, N.S. 1973Movements, foraging groups, and diurnal migrations of the striped parrotfish, Scarus croicensis Bloch (Scaridae)Ecology54589596Google Scholar
  28. Polunin, N.V.C., Klumpp, D.W. 1989Ecological correlates of foraging periodicity in herbivorous reef fishes of the coral seaJ. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol.126120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Potvin, C., Roff, D.A. 1993Distribution-free and robust statistical methods: Viable alternative methods to parametric statistics?Ecology7416171628Google Scholar
  30. Reeson, P.H. 1975. The biology, ecology and exploitation and management of Caribbean reef fishes; Acanthuridae (Surgeonfishes). Scientific Report of the O.D.A/U.W.I Fisheries Ecology Research Report (1969–1973) Part V(3). Kingston, Jamaica 61 pp.Google Scholar
  31. Reinthal, P.N., Lewis, S.M. 1986Social behaviour, foraging efficiency and habitat utilization in a group of tropical herbivorous fishAnim. Behav.3416871693Google Scholar
  32. Robertson, D.R. 1991Increases in surgeonfish populations after mass mortality of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum in Panama indicate food limitationMar. Biol.111437444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Robertson, D.R., Sweatman, H.P.A., Fletcher, E.A., Cleland, M.G. 1976Schooling as a mechanism for circumventing the territoriality of competitorsEcology5712081220Google Scholar
  34. Rubenstein, D.I.Wrangham, R.W. eds. 1986Ecological Aspects of Social EvolutionPrinceton University PressPrinceton, New Jersey512Google Scholar
  35. Saino, N. 1994Time budget variation in relation to flock size in carrion crows, Corvus corone coroneAnim. Behav.4711891196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Shapiro, D.Y. 1991Intraspecific variability in social systems of coral reef fishes, pp. 331–355Sale, P.F. eds. The Ecology of Fishes on Coral ReefsAcademic PressSan Diego754Google Scholar
  37. Vine, P.J. 1974Effects of algal grazing and aggressive behaviour of the fishes Pomacentrus lividus and Acanthurus sohal on coral reef ecologyMar. Biol.24131136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Warner, R.R. 1997Evolutionary ecology: how to reconcile pelagic dispersal with local adaptationCoral Reefs16S115S120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Warner, R.R., Hoffman, S.G. 1980Local population size as a determinant of mating system and sexual composition in two tropical marine fishes (Thalassoma spp.)Evolution34508518Google Scholar
  40. Warner, R.R., Downs, I.F. 1977Comparative life histories: Growth vs reproduction in normal males and sex-changing hermaphrodites of the striped parrotfishScarus croicensis. Proceedings of the 3rd International Coral Reef Symposium 1275281Google Scholar
  41. Wolf, N.G. 1987Schooling tendency and foraging benefit in the ocean surgeonfishBehav. Ecol. Sociobiol.215963CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zar, J.H. 1999Biostatistical Analysis, 4th editionPrentice Hall. Upper Saddle RiverNew Jersey663Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ingrid E. Morgan
    • 1
  • Donald L. Kramer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations