A close look at the specific feeding habits of territorial damselfish reveals strategies for coexistence

phys.org | 1/23/2019 | Staff
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In the animal kingdom, food access is among the biggest drivers of habitat preference. It influences, among other things, how animals interact, where they roam and the amount of energy they expend to maintain their access to food. But how do different members of ecologically similar species manage to live close to each other?

This question was on the mind of UC Santa Barbara postdoctoral scholar Jacob Eurich as he studied territorial damselfish in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Located within the Coral Triangle of the Indo-Pacific region, which is recognized for the greatest richness of marine life in the world, the coral reefs in the area are home to a variety of damselfish. This includes seven species that inhabit their own particular spaces, in some cases within mere meters of one another.

Scientists - Damselfishes - Farm - Algae - Thing

"Previously, scientists thought that all territorial damselfishes were herbivorous, farm algae and basically do the same thing ecologically on reefs," explained Eurich, who conducted this research while at James Cook University in Australia. "Damselfish" is a very broad category, he added, with members such as clownfishes and the Californian garibaldi in the same family. The species of damselfish that are the subject of this research are the tropical territorial types, known to cultivate and protect algal beds on coral reefs.

In research published in the science journal Marine Biology, Eurich sought to understand how neighboring communities of these fish—which live in an ecological community of intense competition for resources—manage to thrive.

"We set out to understand how they live so close to one another without directly competing, and why," he said.

The answer came after an in-depth look at the fishes' diets using stable isotope analysis, which detects certain types of elements in their muscle tissues and links them to potential food items.

Principle

"It is based on the principle, 'you are what you...
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