Damselfish can be fastidious farmers. They prune and cultivate small patches of algae, often no more than half a square meter (5 square feet) in area, ensuring they have a steady food source. One species in the Caribbean even herds tiny mysid shrimp around their underwater “gardens,” which the shrimp dose with their fecal fertilizer. It might not come as a surprise, then, that damselfish would relentlessly chase any intruders from their territory looking to snatch a bit of their algae. Behavioral ecologist Rachel Gunn and her colleagues witnessed that sort of “hyper-aggressive” behavior in jewel damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus) living on reefs in the Chagos Archipelago of the Indian Ocean — but only off the coast of islands that didn’t have invasive rats. Around islands infested with rats, aggression toward interlopers waned, and the damselfish had larger territories. In a study published Jan. 5 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, the team demonstrated for the first time that the presence of invasive rats on islands affects the behavior of fish living on nearby reefs. In her earlier research, Gunn had been studying how other reef fish respond to the availability of their food. Butterflyfish, for example, spend more time foraging for the live coral they like to eat when it’s not particularly abundant, rather than expend a lot of energy defending a territory large enough to supply them with sufficient food. A jewel damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus) among the coral reef of a rat-free island. Image by Rachel Gunn. At…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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