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Differential attack by a cichlid fish on resident and non-resident fish of another cichlid species

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An algivorous cichlid, Variabilichromis moorii (Vm), defends permanent territories in Lake Tanganyika, Africa. A zoobenthivorous cichlid, Neolamprologus mustax (Nm), spends 60% of daylight hours foraging in Vm territories, from which other zoobenthivorous fishes are chased out and consequently which are much richer in prey animals than areas outside of Vm territories. We conducted a field experiment to examine whether Nm residents and non-residents received different degrees of attacks from Vm. Nm fish were caught in their territories, released at a point distant from these territories, and followed to observe interactions with Vm fish. The frequency of attacks received by the displaced Nm fish was greater than attacks received by Nm residents, indicating that Nm residents had easier access to Vm territories than non-residents did. A possible mechanism for this is reduced aggression of Vm towards Nm residents, as a result of the ‘dear enemy’ effect that has been reported in territorial contests between rivals. An alternative mechanism is that tolerance towards Nm differs among Vm fish and Nm residents selectively visit more tolerant Vm fish due to previous experience while non-residents randomly approach both tolerant and hostile Vm fish. The ability of Vm to discriminate between Nm residents and non-residents is essential to the former mechanism but not to the latter. To more specifically examine which mechanism works in the Vm-Nm commensal system, we will need to follow individually identified Vm fish interacting with Nm residents and non-residents.

Affiliations: 1: 4-4-7 Higashimon-cho, Imabari-shi 794-0033, Japan; 2: Sado Marine Biological Station, Faculty of Science, Niigata University, 87 Tassha, Sado 952-2135, Japan; 3: Department of Biology and Geosciences, Graduate School of Science, Osaka City University, 3-3-138 Sugimoto, Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka 558-8585, Japan


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