Nocturnal migration reduces exposure to micropredation in a coral reef fish

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 14
  • Abstract:

    Tropical Atlantic reef fishes in the family Haemulidae (grunts) remain quiescent on reefs during the day and migrate to seagrass beds or sand flats at night. Hypothesized advantages of such nocturnal migrations are increased food availability and/or decreased predation risk. Here, we tested predictions of an alternative hypothesis that nocturnal migrations of French grunt, Haemulon flavolineatum (Desmarest, 1823), reduce exposure to blood-feeding gnathiid isopods. The departure of grunts from the reef coincides with increasing gnathiid activity. In field experiments, subadult fish placed in cages and deployed on the reef at night harbored significantly more gnathiids than those placed in the seagrass habitat. However, this was not the case during the day when gnathiid activity in all habitats is low. In another experiment, the timing of return to the reef was determined to coincide with the postdawn decrease in gnathiid activity. Estimates of cumulative gnathiid exposure at two sites revealed that grunts remaining in reef habitat at night would experience an average of 3 and 44 times more gnathiids than if they spent the night in the seagrass bed, and could reach more than 300 gnathiids on a single fish. In a final field experiment, even recently-settled (<2 cm) juvenile grunts were infested by gnathiids, supporting previous laboratory experiments showing that a single third-stage gnathiid will infest and kill grunts of this size. Combined, these findings suggest that nocturnal feeding migrations of French grunts and ecologically similar fishes result in reduced exposure to blood-feeding gnathiid isopods