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Soft corals provide microhabitat for camouflaged juveniles of the Blackspotted wrasse Macropharyngodon meleagris (Labridae)


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Juveniles of the Blackspotted wrasse Macropharyngodon meleagris (Valenciennes, 1839) were observed to solely inhabit xeniid soft corals in shallow exposed reefs in Negros Island (central Philippines). Juvenile coloration (including patterns and eyespots) and adapted swimming behavior may support blending in with the soft coral environment and avoiding predation. This report constitutes the first description of juvenile wrasses occupying niches within a soft coral microhabitat by using their unique coloration patterns and swimming behavior.
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2016 Marine Biodiversity 46(1): 299301 DOI 10.1007/s12526-015-0332-x
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Soft corals provide microhabitat for camouflaged juveniles
of the Blackspotted wrasse Macropharyngodon meleagris
Arthur R. Bos 1, 2
1 Department of Biology, School of Sciences and Engineering, American University in Cairo, P.O. Box 74, New Cairo 11835, Egypt
2 Department of Marine Zoology, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, P.O. Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands
Abstract Juveniles of the Blackspotted wrasse
Macropharyngodon meleagris (Valenciennes, 1839) were
observed to solely inhabit xeniid soft corals in shallow
exposed reefs in Negros Island (central Philippines). Juvenile
coloration (including patterns and eyespots) and adapted
swimming behavior may support blending in with the soft
coral environment and avoiding predation. This report
constitutes the first description of juvenile wrasses occupying
niches within a soft coral microhabitat by using their unique
coloration patterns and swimming behavior.
Keywords Anthozoa · Coral reef · Eyespot · Indo-Pacific ·
Philippines · Xeniidae
The Indo-Pacific Blackspotted wrasse Macropharyngodon
meleagris (Valenciennes, 1839) inhabits coral reef
ecosystems that are biogeographically distributed between Sri
Lanka, Japan, the Pitcairn Islands and northeast Australia
(Read et al. 2006; Froese and Pauly 2014). Adults of M.
meleagris have conspicuous color patterns: Terminal phase
individuals display red and green colors in a reticulated
pattern and stripes on body and head respectively; initial
phase individuals display an irregularly pied pattern where
the fins are gradually dominated by yellow and red colors. In
contrast, early juveniles display less striking colors having
beige to greenish bodies and fins, both scattered with slightly
darker lines and dots. Furthermore, juveniles have dark
eyespots with a double rim (inner rim beige, outer rim
maroon) on the rear of their dorsal and anal fins (Westneat
The aim of the present study is to describe and analyze
the utilization of soft coral microhabitats by juveniles of
Macropharyngodon meleagris based on camouflage and
swimming behavior.
Material and methods
Specimens of Macropharyngodon meleagris were studied in
coral reefs along the southern coast of Negros Island (central
Philippines) in March and December 2010, and January 2011
(Bos 2011). The surveys were conducted by applying six
transects (20 × 10 m each) and nine 1-hour dives using the
roving diver technique (Schmitt et al. 2002) while SCUBA
diving over a depth range of 025 m. The total length (TL) of
fish was visually estimated at an accuracy of 5 mm. Fish and
soft corals were photographed in situ to support later
identification using identification guides (e.g. Gosliner et al.
1996; Fabricius and Alderslade 2001; Froese and Pauly
Initial and terminal phase adults of Macropharyngodon
meleagris were regularly observed swimming and foraging in
a variety of coral habitats at all studied depths. Juveniles,
however, were only found swimming among the swaying
branches of Xeniidae soft corals (e.g. Cespitularia spp. and
Efflatounaria spp.), which occurred at relatively exposed
localities at 25 m depth (Fig. 1). The juvenile fish (TL ≤ 30
mm; n = 12) gently swayed with the waves and the
synchronically-moving fleshy branches of the soft corals. If
surges were strong, the fish rapidly turned their swimming
direction by 180º continuously facing the prevailing currents.
Furthermore, juveniles always displayed their eyespots by
permanently extending their dorsal and anal fins.
2016 Marine Biodiversity 46(1): 299301 DOI 10.1007/s12526-015-0332-x
Fig. 1 Juvenile of Macropharyngodon meleagris (Total
Length 20 mm) blending in with the canopy of a soft coral
Eyespots are found in many fishes most probably with the
purpose of confusing potential predators (Neudecker 1989;
Kelley et al. 2013). In particular juvenile fishes that display
eyespots may follow that goal (Gagliano and Depczynski
2013), as presently observed in Macropharyngodon
meleagris (Fig. 1). During ontogenetic development,
individuals of M. meleagris are exposed to an increasing risk
of predation when changing colors and may emigrate from
protective niches within soft coral canopies. Other juvenile
fish and invertebrates have been observed migrating to more
exposed habitats while growing larger, usually to find
appropriate feeding grounds or mates (Bos et al. 2011a; Grol
et al. 2014). Color patterns alone, however, may not fully
explain predation avoidance, because fish vision is based on
other light frequency ranges than those perceived by the
human eye (Siebeck and Marshall 2001). In addition, body
shape, swimming behavior, and chemical camouflage may
play a role in confusing predators (Brooker et al. 2015).
Therefore, juveniles of M. meleagris may reduce predation
risk through a combination of camouflage abilities in
microhabitats dominated by xeniid corals (Fig. 1). Color
plasticity (beige to green) may allow adaptation to a variety
of microhabitats and reduce predation risk of these juveniles
in reefs dominated by different coral species. Juveniles of
other labrid species, in particular congeners of M. meleagris,
may follow a similar disguising strategy. The encounter of a
juvenile M. marisrubi Randall, 1978 in a soft coral canopy in
the Red Sea (pers. observation) underlines this hypothesis.
Moreover, juveniles of the wrasses Bodianus diana
(Lacepède, 1801), Cirrhilabrus exquisitus Smith, 1957 and
Oxycheilinus celebicus (Bleeker, 1853) display eyespots and
were observed hiding among the long tentacles of the
mushroom coral Heliofungia actiniformis (Bos 2012; Bos and
Hoeksema 2015).
Camouflage may play an important role in the ecology of
other fauna associated with soft corals. Apart from juvenile
fishes, commensal shrimps dwell among the branches and
polyps of xeniid corals (Marin 2011; Marin et al. 2011).
Similarly, the anemone-like polyps of the corallimorpharian
Paracorynactis hoplites Haddon and Shackleton, 1893 host a
combination of well-camouflaged commensal shrimps and
juvenile fishes, including representatives of the Labridae
(Ocaña et al. 2010; Bos et al. 2011b). A possible strategy to
prey on associated fauna may have been developed by the
venomous sea anemone Phyllodiscus semoni Kwietniewski,
1897, which can mimic soft corals such as the xeniid
Efflatounaria sp. (Hoeksema and Crowther 2011). If
juveniles of Macropharyngodon meleagris are adversely
affected by this sea anemone is presently unknown.
Acknowledgements Identification of soft corals was confirmed by
L.P. van Ofwegen (Naturalis Biodiversity Center). S. Nitza and
three anonymous reviewers are acknowledged for providing
valuable feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript.
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Two new species of symbiotic hippolytid shrimps of the genus Alcyonohippolyte Marin, Okuno & Chan, 2010 are described from Lizard Island, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Alcyonohippolyte tenuicarpus sp. nov. is associated with xeniid soft coral of the genus Heteroxenia Kolliker, 1874 and differs from the congeners by a long rostrum greatly exceeding antennular peduncle and slender carpal segments of pereiopod II. Alcyonohippolyte tubiporae sp. nov. is associated with organ pipe coral of the genus Tubipora Linnaeus, 1758, possibly T. musica Linnaeus, 1758 (Alcyonacea: Tubiporidae), and differs from the congeners by equal distal and proximal carpal segments of pereiopod II. Both species can be clearly separated from the congeners ecologically and by coloration.
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