Cleaner Wrasse On Reefs Increase Presence Of Juvenile Damselfish

By John Virata

Cleaner wrasse play an important role in reef communities, removing ectoparasites from fish, which keeps them healthy. They are also collected for the marine aquarium trade, where they generally do not fare too well.
A followup study to a 2011 study published by the Royal Society took a look at the presence of the blue streak cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus on reefs off Lizard Island Australia and found that it helps to reduce stress on the fish species it cleans and increases fish abundance and diversity.

Researchers Derek Sun, Johanna Werminghausen, Alexandra S. Grutter Karen L. Cheney, and Thomas H. Cribb of the University of Queensland, Australia, Mark G. Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and Mark I. McCormick of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and College of Marine and Environmental Sciences took a look at the effects these important reef fish have on fish recruitment on the reef and concluded that small patch reefs with healthy populations of cleaner wrasse had a higher abundance of damselfish on the reef than other reefs in which the cleaner wrasse were removed by aquarium fish collectors.

A pair of cleaner wrasse working on a dragon wrasse in Hawaii. Via Mbz1/Wikipedia

“We conducted field observations on patch reefs at Lizard Island which have either been left untouched or have had cleaner wrasse removed since 2000,” Mr. Sun told Phys Org. “We found that the presence of cleaner wrasse increased the number of recruited juvenile damselfishes, which are an important fish group on coral reefs.”

The study should help to educate those in the aquarium trade that not all fish should be collected from the world’s reefs, and most cleaner wrasses, like many other reef species, perform certain functions that generally cannot be duplicated by other reef fish.

This article originally appeared on, which was incorporated into

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