The Personality Behind Cheating: Behavioural Types and the Feeding Ecology of Cleaner Fish
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The complex mutualistic relationship between the cleaner fish (Labroides dimidiatus) and their 'clients' in many reef systems throughout the world has been the subject of debate and research interest for decades. Game-theory models have long struggled with explaining how the mixed strategies of cheating and honesty might have evolved in such a system and while significant efforts have been made theoretically, demonstrating the nature of this relationship empirically remains an important research challenge. Using the experimental framework of behavioural syndromes, we sought to quantitatively assess the relationship between personality and the feeding ecology of cleaner fish to provide novel insights into the underlying mechanistic basis of cheating in cleaner-client interactions. First, we observed and filmed cleaner fish interactions with heterospecifics, movement patterns and general feeding ecology in the wild. We then captured and measured all focal individuals and tested them for individual consistency in measures of activity, exploration and risk taking (boldness) in the laboratory. Our results suggest a syndrome incorporating aspects of personality and foraging effort are central components of the behavioural ecology of L. dimidiatus on the Great Barrier Reef. We found that individuals that exhibited greater feeding effort tended to cheat proportionately less and move over smaller distances relative to bolder more active, exploratory individuals. Our study demonstrates for the first time that individual differences in personality might be mechanistically involved in explaining how the mixed strategies of cheating and honesty persist in cleaner fish mutualisms. © 2014 Blackwell Verlag GmbH.
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