Predation on parasitic gnathiid isopods on coral reefs: a comparison of Caribbean cleaning gobies with non-cleaning microcarnivores
Artim, John M.
Sikkel, Paul C.
Grippo, Richard S.
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On coral reefs, gnathiid isopods are a common blood-feeding ectoparasite of reef fishes that can have significant impacts on reef-fish health and fitness. Cleaner fishes and shrimps are the only major documented predators of gnathiids, removing them from the bodies of host fishes. However, gnathiids spend most of their lifecycle free living and thus may be eaten by other microcarnivorous fishes that collectively could have larger impacts on gnathiid populations. This study examined gut contents from Caribbean nocturnal reef microcarnivorous fish and from the Caribbean cleaning goby Elacatinus evelynae for the presence of gnathiid isopods. Among nocturnal microcarnivores, gnathiids were found in only a small proportion of the gut contents of grunts (5%) and cardinalfish (4%), but in a higher proportion of the gut contents of squirrelfish and soldierfish (26%). In comparison, most cleaning gobies collected in the morning had gnathiids (93%), with an average of 6.3 gnathiids per fish. While microcarnivorous fishes ate far fewer gnathiids, they were present in much greater numbers than cleaning gobies. These results support previous studies on cleaning gobies suggesting that individually, they consume high numbers of gnathiids. However, they also suggest that collectively, other predators could have an equal or greater impact on gnathiid populations