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Evidence of a geographically variable competitive mimicry relationship in coral reef fishes


  • Editor: Günther Zupanc

Meredith M. Rainey, Department of Ecology, Montana State University, PO Box 173460, Bozeman, MT 59717-3460, USA.


In Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, juvenile surgeonfish Acanthurus pyroferus have been shown to gain access to food resources defended by the damselfish Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus by mimicking a pygmy angelfish, Centropyge vrolikii, that does not compete with the damsel for food. I tested whether A. pyroferus juveniles gain the same competitive advantage from mimicking a different pygmy angelfish, Centropyge flavissima, in Moorea, French Polynesia. Through abundance and substrate surveys, behavioral observations and stomach content analyses, I demonstrate that in Moorea, mimicry of Ce. flavissima does not provide A. pyroferus with access to damselfish Stegastes nigricans territories; Ce. flavissima models are always attacked upon territory entry and A. pyroferus mimics avoid damsel territories. Damselfish aggression toward the model angelfish cannot be attributed to overabundance of the deceptive mimic; instead, aggression can best be explained by the fact that Ce. flavissima competes with damsels in Moorea by consuming their algal turfs, making them inappropriate models for competitive mimics. Juveniles of many Indo-Pacific surgeonfishes appear to mimic pygmy angelfishes; I suggest that these mimics' success in gaining access to damselfish territories is geographically variable and may be determined by the extent to which mimics, models and receivers overlap in resource use at a given site. This mimicry complex may thus present an excellent illustration of the geographic mosaic model of coevolution.