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Classification of social systems of six butterflyfish species (f. Chaetodontidae; g. Chaetodon) at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, 2013-2015


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Classification of social systems of six butterflyfish species (f. Chaetodontidae; g. Chaetodon) at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, 2013-2015
Date Record Created
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Date Coverage
2013 to 2015
Time Period
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  1. Type: full

    This collection contains data that characterizes pair bonding and solitary social systems among six species of butterflyfish (f. Chaetodontidae, g. Chaetodon) at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The species are: Chaetodon baronessa, C. lunulatus, C. vagabundus, C. rainfordi, C. plebeius, and C. trifascialis.

    Seven sets of data pertaining to their social systems are included: 1) group size frequency distribution, 2) proximate swimming with group member and/or non-group member, 3) parallel swimming with group member and/or non-group member, 4) agonistic acts towards group member vs. non-group member, 5) partner fidelity of paired groups, 6) sex composition of paired groups, and 7) preferential affiliation with partner vs. non-partner ("partner preference") in laboratory setting. Datasets 1-6 pertain to all 6 species, whereas dataset 7 pertains to C. lunulatus males only.

    Data collection methods: Only individuals that were within 80% of the asymptotic size for the species, and therefore likely to be reproductively mature were considered.

    Group size frequency (dataset 1): Collected Jan, 2014, field surveys were conducted on the north-western side of Lizard Island.Field surveys were conducted from 0800 to 1800 and along 200m2 (50m x 4m) belt transects. Six replicate transects were run at each of five randomly selected platform reefs. During surveys, each individual (or group of individuals) from the focal species within the transect area was followed for a 5-min observation period. Group size was recorded for each focal species and determined by the number of individuals (either 1, 2, or 3+ individuals) that displayed proximate swimming (within 1.5m distance) for at least 3 consecutive minutes during a 5-minute observation period.

    Social behavior of groups (datasets 2-5): For each species, data was collected for species typical group size (established in dataset 1), and additionally for solitary grouped C. lunulatus. In situ behavioural observations were conducted on snorkel at randomized times throughout the day. Focal individual(s) within the group were identified, approached from a distance of 2-5 metres, and allowed three minutes to acclimate to observers' presence prior to a 3 minute observation. For predominantly paired species, proximate and parallel swimming with partner relative to non-partner were recorded; and for predominantly solitary species and C. lunulatus individuals, these behaviours were recorded when they were directed towards other conspecifics. Proximate swimming was defined as swimming within 1.5m from another conspecific; parallel swimming was determined as swimming faced at 315-45˚ angle relative to conspecific’s face position (designated 0°) and recorded once every 10 seconds. Agonistic behavior was reported as a total of all acts, which included staring, chasing, fleeing, and encircling (see Yabuta, S. (2000). Behaviors in agonistic interaction of the butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunulatus). Journal of Ethology, 18(1), 11-15.) for full description.

    Partner fidelity of paired groups (dataset 5): Both partners of naturally occurring pairs of C. baronessa, C. lunulatus, and C. vagabundus were tagged using Floy T-bar external ID tags. After 1.5 months, fish were re-identified on the reef, and tag IDs were used to identify whether focal fish were with original partners. To facilitate relocation of tagged fishes, this study was conducted on a single distinct platform reef, separated from nearby reefs by an open expanse of sand, which was expected to minimize movement of fishes away from the vicinity in which they were originally tagged.

    Sex composition of paired groups (data set 6): Pairs of C. lunulatus, C. baronessa, and C. vagabundus were collected from the reef, sacrificed, and gonads were examined histologically for determination of oocytes (female) or sperm (male).

    Preferential affiliation with partner vs. non-partner ("partner preference") in laboratory (data set 7): Pairs of C. lunulatus were collected from the reef, transported to the laboratory at Lizard Island, sexed using catheterization, and allowed to acclimate in test tank overnight. The following morning, male was placed in the central compartment in the tank, with his female partner on one end, and a non-female conspecific on other end. Compartments were separated by mesh, allowing for transmission of all social cues except tactile. Male compartment was further divided into 3 fully accessible zones: a zone adjacent to his partner, a central zone adjacent to no fish, and a third zone adjacent to the non-partner female. Females were placed in their compartments. All fish acclimated in their compartment for 2 hours. Following, the trial began by recording the position of focal males (relative to the three zones) once every 30 seconds, and the number of agonistic acts directed towards its partner and non-partner throughout a one-hour observation period. Partner preference was determined by comparing total minutes male were positioned in partner versus non-partner zones.

    The full methodology is available in the publication shown in the Related Publications link below.

  2. Type: note

    This dataset is available as 5 spreadsheets saved in MS Excel (.xlsx) and Open Document formats (.ods)

Related Publications
  1. Nowicki, Jessica P., O'Connell, Lauren A., Cowman, Peter F., Walker, Stefan P.W., Coker, Darren J., and Pratchett, Morgan S. (2018) Variation in social systems within Chaetodon butterflyfishes, with special reference to pair bonding. PLoS ONE, 13 (4)
    Open Access
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  1. Owned by: Ms Jessica Nowicki , ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
  2. Associated with: Mr Darren Coker , , ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Primary Contact
Ms Jessica Nowicki,
  1. Prof Morgan Pratchett ,
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Fields of Research
  1. 0602 - Ecology (0602)
Socio-Economic Objective
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  1. butterflyfish
  2. social system
  3. pair bond
  4. partner preference
  5. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Research Activity
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Research Themes
Not aligned to a University theme
CC BY-NC: Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 AU
License - Other
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Access Rights/Conditions
Open access. If the data is not freely accessible via the link provided, please contact the nominated data manager or for assistance.
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Data Location
Online Locations
  1. Dataset_7_male C lun partner_non-partner preference.xlsx (Data File, Public)
  2. Dataset_5_1point5 mo partner fidelity.ods (Data File, Public)
  3. Dataset_6_sex comp of pairs.xlsx (Data File, Public)
  4. Dataset_7_male C lun partner_non-partner preference.ods (Data File, Public)
  5. Dataset_6_sex comp of pairs.ods (Data File, Public)
  6. Dataset_1_ group size frequency.ods (Data File, Public)
  7. Dataset_2_4_group social behav.ods (Data File, Public)
  8. Dataset_2_4_group social behav.xlsx (Data File, Public)
  9. Dataset_5_1point5 mo partner fidelity.xlsx (Data File, Public)
  10. Dataset_1_ group size frequency.xlsx (Data File, Public)
Stored At
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Nowicki, J.; Coker, D. (2017). Classification of social systems of six butterflyfish species (f. Chaetodontidae; g. Chaetodon) at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Austsralia, 2013-2015. James Cook University. (dataset).
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