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Free Content Predation on Corals by Fishes of the Family Chaetodontidae: Implications for Conservation and Management of Coral Reef Ecosystems

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Two species of butterflyfishes, Chaetodon trifascialis and C. trifasciatus, are obligate coral predators. Their distribution and abundance on the coral reef may provide clues as to conditions on the reef. In this sense they are considered an indicator species. The argument is developed that counting a few species of conspicuous fishes is more efficient than trying to assess the distribution and abundance of the corals directly. The pollution of coral reefs may be due to chronic, sublethal levels of pollutants affecting the reef over long periods of time. The fish, being motile, may provide an early warning to deteriorating conditions by changes in their behavior, including eventual movement from the reef.

The co-occurrence of C. trifascialis with corals of the genus Acropora is especially useful, and evidence for the co-evolved relationship is presented from Hawaii, Enewetak Atoll, Guam and Papua New Guinea. The data from Guam and PNG illustrate the variation that may occur within the relationship.

Chaetodon trifasciatus occurs in heterosexual pairs, lives in home ranges on the reef, and feeds on a variety of corals. Pairing behavior provides a further dimension for assessment of deteriorating conditions in the reef biotope.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1981-07-01

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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