Rabbitfish That Pair Up May Not Necessarily Be Breeding Partners

Paired rabbitish may be foraging partners.

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Siganus doliatus on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by J.Donelson
John Virata

Rabbitfish are often seen in pairs on reefs, but that does not mean they are breeding mates, according to a new study by the University of Technology Sydney. The study looked at the nature of the mating system of pencil-streaked rabbitfish (Siganus doliatus), and found that the rabbitfish pairs that are commonly seen on the reef are not always together for mating purposes.

“Rabbitfish are a very interesting group of fishes and are also an important part of the fisheries catch in many countries of the tropical and sub-tropical Indo-Pacific. About 50 per cent of rabbitfish species live in socially monogamous pairs, while the other half form loosely associated schools,” said Dr. Rebecca Fox, UTS marine ecologist, and lead author of the research.

“For the schooling species, it is a matter of record that they reproduce at mass spawning aggregations. But we have no scientifically-published records of the mating behaviour of pairing species of rabbitfish in the wild and so their reproductive habitats are still a bit of a mystery. We’ve tended to assume that, since they live in pairs, they would simply reproduce on their home territory with their partner,” she said. The researchers tagged paired rabbitfishes and monitored them for six months and found that the paired fish take coordinated group migrations once a month during a new moon. So the question that remains is why during the times of non-migration do these fishes form pairs if they aren’t mating. Fox believes that the paired rabbitfish pair up for foraging purposes. When one rabbitfish has its head in the reef and is feeding, the other rabbitfish acts as a lookout to warn of potential predators in the vicinity.She hopes to conduct more research on the mating rituals of the species.

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