Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 19–33 | Cite as

Size-related habitat use and schooling behavior in two species of surgeonfish (Acanthurus bahianus and A. coeruleus) on a fringing reef in Barbados, West Indies

  • Gareth L. Lawson
  • Donald L. Kramer
  • Wayne Hunte


Surgeonfish (Acanthuridae) are prominent, herbivorous members of coral reef communities that occur as dispersed individuals and small, loose groups ('non-schooling fish') or as members of large, highly aggregated, mixed-species schools ('schooling fish'). We examined the relationships among fish size, habitat use and schooling in two species of surgeonfish on a fringing reef in Barbados, West Indies. Both ocean surgeonfish, Acanthurus bahianus, and blue tangs, A. coeruleus, appeared to show ontogenetic habitat shifts. The density of juvenile ocean surgeonfish was highest in the back reef (inshore), lower on the reef crest (intermediate) and lowest in the spurs and grooves (offshore) zone, but schooling adults were most abundant in the spurs and grooves zone. In a multiple regression considering the effects of depth, algal cover, rugosity and distance from shore, the density of non-schooling ocean surgeonfish was positively associated with percent algal cover on the substratum and negatively with distance from shore. Newly settled blue tangs occurred only in the reef crest and spurs and grooves zones, but larger juveniles were more common in the back reef, while adults were more evenly distributed across zones. The density of non-schooling blue tang was positively associated with rugosity, distance from shore, and percent algal cover. In both species, schooling occurred primarily in adults; small juveniles never participated in the large, dense schools. The proportion of adults that were schooling increased from the back reef to the reef crest to the spurs and grooves zone. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that schooling permits adult surgeonfish access to higher quality food in the territories of damselfish (Pomacentridae) that predominate on the reef crest and spurs.

Acanthuridae aggregation coral reef damselfish habitat selection Pomacentridae social organization 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gareth L. Lawson
    • 1
  • Donald L. Kramer
    • 1
  • Wayne Hunte
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada (e-mail
  2. 2.Bellairs Research Institute of McGill UniversitySt. James, Barbados

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