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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 234:257-264 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps234257

Optimising cleaning behaviour: minimising the costs and maximising ectoparasite removal

A. S. Grutter1,*, H. McCallum1, R. J. G. Lester2

1Department of Zoology and Entomology and
2Department of Microbiology and Parasitology, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

ABSTRACT: Little is known of how client fish minimise the costs of cleaning behaviour while maximising ectoparasite removal by cleaner fish. Previous studies have found that abundance on fish and infestation behaviour of gnathiid isopods, the main parasite eaten by cleaner fish, varies diurnally. We examined whether reduced foraging is a cost of cleaning behaviour in clients and whether the behaviour of the client fish, the thick-lipped wrasse Hemigymnus melapterus, towards the cleaner fish Labroides dimidiatus varied diurnally to maximise ectoparasite removal, possibly in response to the diurnal changes in the abundance and infestation patterns of gnathiids. We found that during the midday and afternoon, client foraging rates were negatively related to the duration and frequency of inspections, suggesting that cleaning may, at some times of the day, be energetically costly to the client in terms of reduced foraging opportunities. Surprisingly, we found that the duration and frequency of inspections of clients by cleaners did not vary among diel time periods. A model of gnathiid dynamics on individual fish is proposed. It shows that the observed diurnal pattern in gnathiid abundance on fish can be generated with the constant duration and frequency of inspections that was observed in this study. Thus clients would not have more gnathiids removed by modifying their cleaning behaviour.

KEY WORDS: Cleaning behaviour · Labroides dimidiatus · Cleaning symbiosis · Foraging behaviour · Gnathiidae

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