This study examined within-reef distributions for 19 species of butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and compared spatial patterns of abundance among species with contrasting diets. Spatial variation in abundance of butterflyfishes was most prominent among physiognomic reef zones mainly due to significant zonation of eight species, including four obligate hard-coral feeders (Chaetodon trifascialis, Chaetodon baronessa, Chaetodon plebeius and Chaetodon lunulatus) and four generalist species (Chaetodon auriga, Chaetodon citrinellus, Chaetodon kleinii and Chaetodon rafflesi). Distributions of obligate hard-coral feeders were closely associated with spatial variation in percentage cover of scleractinian corals, but no more restricted compared with facultative hard-coral feeders or non-coral feeders. Species with highest dietary specialization (C. trifascialis and C. baronessa), however, exhibited the most pronounced zonation patterns and were restricted to habitats with greatest abundance of their preferred prey. While there are conspicuous links between dietary specialization v. spatial patterns in abundance of butterflyfishes, it remains unclear whether dietary specialization is the cause or consequence of more restricted distributions.