The effect of adult aggression on habitat selection by settlers of two coral-dwelling damselfishes

Ofer Ben-Tzvi*, Moshe Kiflawi, Omer Polak, Avigdor Abelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coral-reef fishes experience a major challenge when facing settlement in a multi-threat environment, within which, using settlement cues, they need to select a suitable site. Studies in laboratories and artificial setups have shown that the presence of conspecific adults often serves as a positive settlement cue, whose value is explained by the increased survival of juveniles in an already proven fit environment. However, settlement in already inhabited corals may expose the recruits to adult aggression. Daily observations and manipulation experiments were used in the present study, which was conducted in the natural reef. We revealed differential strategies of settlers, which do not necessarily join conspecific adults. Dascyllus aruanus prefer to settle near (not with) their aggressive adults, and to join them only after gaining in size; whereas Dascyllus marginatus settlers in densely populated reefs settle independently of their adult distribution. Our results present different solutions to the challenges faced by fish recruits while selecting their microhabitat, and emphasize the complexity of habitat selection by the naïve settlers. Although laboratory experiments are important to the understanding of fish habitat selection, further studies in natural habitats are essential in order to elucidate the actual patterns of settlement and habitat selection, which are crucial for the survival of coral-reef fish populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5511
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 13 May 2009


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