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Specialist corallivores dominate butterflyfish assemblages in coral-dominated reef habitats

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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. Tel.: +61 7 47815747; email: morgan.pratchett@jcu.edu.au

Abstract

This study examined the dietary habits and functional composition of butterflyfishes in the Chagos Archipelago, central Indian Ocean. Eighteen species of butterflyfishes were recorded in Chagos, including six obligate corallivores (Chaetodon bennetti, Chaetodon guttatissimus, Chaetodon meyeri, Chaetodon trifascialis, Chaetodon trifasciatus and Chaetodon zanzibarensis), five facultative corallivores (Chaetodon auriga, Chaetodon falcula, Chaetodon interruptus, Chaetodon kleinii and Chaetodon madagaskariensis), two non-corallivores (Chaetodon lunula and Chaetodon xanthocephalus) and a further five species (Chaetodon citrinellus, Chaetodon lineolatus, Heimitaurichthys zoster, Heniochus monoceros and Forcipiger flavissimus), for which local dietary habits were not studied. There were marked differences in the abundance of butterflyfishes among sites and between reef zones, mostly associated with variation in abundance of scleractinian corals. Obligate coral-feeding species (mostly C. trifascialis) dominated across all sites. This study suggests that coral feeding and high levels of dietary specialization contribute to high population-level fitness among coral reef butterflyfishes. Despite being more vulnerable to habitat disturbances and coral loss, it appears likely that specialist coral-feeding butterflyfishes are also much more resilient to occasional disturbances, and therefore dominate in a wide range of coral reef habitats.

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