Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 373–382 | Cite as

Dietary overlap among coral-feeding butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef

  • Morgan S. PratchettEmail author
Research Article


This study documented the range of corals, and other prey types, consumed by 20 species of butterflyfishes, which co-occur at Lizard Island, northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Six species (Chaetodon aureofasciatus, C. baronessa, C. lunulatus, C. plebius, C. rainfordi and C. trifascialis) fed almost exclusively on scleractinian corals, and a further eight species (C. citrinellus, C. kleinii, C. lunula, C. melannotus, C. rafflesi, C. speculum, C. ulietensis, and C. unimaculatus) took a significant proportion of their bites from corals. The other six species (C. auriga, C. ephippium, C. lineolatus, C. semeion, C. vagabundus, and Chelmon rostratus) rarely consumed coral, but fed on small discrete prey items from non-coral substrates. Coral-feeding butterflyfishes consumed a wide range of corals. Chaetodon lunulatus, for example, consumed 51 coral species from 24 different genera. However, there was up to 72% dietary overlap between coral-feeding butterflyfishes, with 11/14 species feeding predominantly on Acropora hyacinthus or Pocillopora damicornis. The most specialised corallivore, C. trifascialis, took 88% of bites from A. hyacinthus. Chaetodon trifascialis defend territories encompassing one or more colonies of A. hyacinthus, and may have prevented other species such as C. lunulatus from feeding even more extensively on this coral. This study has shown that coexistence of coral-feeding butterflyfishes occurs despite an apparent lack of partitioning of prey resources. While different coral-feeding butterflyfishes were more or less selective in their use of different coral prey, virtually all species fed predominantly on A. hyacinthus or P. damicornis.


Reef Fish Great Barrier Reef Prey Type Scleractinian Coral Coral Reef Fish 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was funded by a Merit Research Grant from James Cook University. Field assistance was provided by A.H. Baird, R. Thomas, and S.L. Watson. Comments by A.H. Baird, M.L. Berumen, T.P. Hughes, G.P. Jones, M.I. McCormick and P.L. Munday greatly improved this manuscript. This is contribution number 150 from the Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity at James Cook University. This research was authorised by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and complies with Australian law.

Supplementary material

227_2005_84_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (439 kb)
Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, School of Marine Biology and AquacultureJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia

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