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Facultative cleaning behaviour of juvenile Diplodus sargus (Sparidae) and its ecological role in marine temperate waters

José Neto, Diana Vieira, David Abecasis, Joana Marques, Leonel Gordo, Joana I Robalo, Regina Bispo, Marta Araújo, Frederico Almada*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The diversity and abundance of cleaner species have been frequently associated to ectoparasite load and ecological wealth of tropical fish communities. Cleaning behaviour in temperate regions has received less attention, with few labrid species being described as cleaners. The context and frequency of cleaning behaviour by juvenile white seabream Diplodus sargus are described. Surface observations from pontoons in yachting marinas are based on a method used in a recent first report of cleaning behaviour by this northeastern Atlantic and Mediterranean sparid. A total of 51 hours of observations revealed that these juveniles (<10 cm total length [TL]) display similar or higher cleaning rates (13.1 cleaning events h-1) compared to other temperate cleaners. High cleaning rates, high abundance of young D. sargus in rocky shores along their distribution area and adults being a preferential target for coastal fisheries, highlight D. sargus’ ecological importance. Most common client species include grey mullets (Mugilidae), which represent 93.5% of total cleaning events registered. Regarding TL, clients were 4.6–6.6 times larger than cleaners. Environmental factors such as water temperature (14.0–24.0°C), wave exposure (6.0–17.0 s) and wind speed (2.0–8.0 m s-1) influence white seabream cleaning rates. Thus, a combination of factors may affect the health of temperate client fish communities. On a different perspective, these results also highlight the potential of juvenile D. sargus in integrated multitrophic aquaculture. In conclusion, white seabream cleaning behaviour plays an important role in temperate fish communities and its relevance in different habitats should be further assessed.