Damselfish 'garden' algae

Jun 17, 2010
This is a damselfish. Credit: Hata et al., BMC Evolutionary Biology

A species of damselfish, Stegastes nigricans, selectively weed the algal gardens on which they feed in order to encourage the growth of their preferred algal species of Polysiphonia and suppress the growth of less palatable algae. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology investigate the feeding preferences of damselfish and explore their diverse gardening systems across the Indo-West Pacific region.

Hiroki Hata from Ehime University, Japan, worked with a team of researchers to explore this 'gardening' behavior. He said, "We surveyed 320 territories of 18 damselfish species and thoroughly examined algae from each fish territory from in Egypt, Kenya, Mauritius, the Maldives, Thailand, Borneo, the Okinawa Islands, and the . We found that although the crop alga species shifted in the West Indian Ocean, the intensive farming by damselfish was seen throughout this geographic range".

The damselfish do not have any organs to allow them to grind cellulose fibers, and lack the required to digest many algal species. The most common algae they can eat, the red alga Polysiphonia, are less competitive than the inedible species and so the damselfish help them out by killing off their rivals. This 'gardening' behavior results in a mutualistic association between Polysiphonia and this particular species of damselfish and it is notable for being one of the first examples of mutualism to be found in a non-terrestrial habitat. Speaking about the results, Hata said, "Obligate reciprocal interaction between marine algae and herbivorous damselfish, called 'cultivation mutualism' was found to be largely maintained in the Indo-West Pacific."

Explore further: Big city life: New leafhopper species found on a threatened grass in New Jersey

More information: Geographic variation in the damselfish-red alga cultivation mutualism in the Indo-West Pacific, Hiroki Hata, Katsutoshi Watanabe and Makoto Kato, BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press), www.biomedcentral.com/bmcevolbiol/

Related Stories

Distressed damsels stress coral reefs

May 26, 2010

Damselfish are killing head corals and adding stress to Caribbean coral reefs, which are already in desperately poor condition from global climate change, coral diseases, hurricanes, pollution, and overfishing. Restoring ...

Fish can recognize a face based on UV pattern alone

Feb 25, 2010

Two species of damselfish may look identical -- not to mention drab -- to the human eye. But that's because, in comparison to the fish, all of us are essentially colorblind. A new study published online on ...

Fishy future written in the genes

Sep 30, 2008

The roadmap to the future of the gorgeously-decorated fish which throng Australia's coral reefs and help earn the nation $5 billion a year from tourism may well be written in their genes.

Recommended for you

Study shows grey squirrels are quick learners

4 hours ago

They may be viewed by some as an invasive species or a commonplace pest of public parks, but a new study from the University of Exeter has shown that grey squirrels are actually quick learners capable of ...

Age and fertility in social insects

7 hours ago

A new research unit coordinated at the University of Freiburg tackles the question of why the otherwise usual trade-off between fecundity and lifespan in multicellular organisms is not present in social insects ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.