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Neotropical Ichthyology

Print version ISSN 1679-6225

Neotrop. ichthyol. vol.8 no.2 Porto Alegre  2010 



A honeymoon in Brazil: the spawning behavior of an exotic reef fish in the western south Atlantic



Osmar J. LuizI,II,V; Ivan SazimaIII,VI; Luis F. WaibII; Carlos Eduardo L. FerreiraIV

IDepto de Zoologia e Museu de Zoologia, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas 13083-970, SP, Brazil.
IIInstituto Laje Viva, São Paulo, SP, Brazil
IIIMuseu de Zoologia, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas 13083-970, SP, Brazil
IVDepto de Biologia Marinha, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Caixa Postal 100644, Niterói 24001-970, RJ, Brazil
VPresent address: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, 2109, Australia
VIRetired and associated as voluntary researcher




The reproductive strategies of surgeonfishes of the genus Acanthurus are well known for all Atlantic species except the Monrovia doctorfish, Acanthurus monroviae, an eastern Atlantic surgeonfish whose biology remains largely unknown. We provide here the first account on the spawning behavior of A. monroviae, an exotic fish on rocky reefs of southeastern Brazilian coast.

Key words: Acanthurus monroviae, Acanthuridae, Reproduction, Laje de Santos, Rocky reef.


As estratégias reprodutivas de peixes-cirurgiões do gênero Acanthurus são bem conhecidas para todas as espécies registradas no Atlântico, exceto para Acanthurus monroviae, um cirurgião do Atlântico leste cuja biologia permanece pouco conhecida. Apresentamos aqui o primeiro relato do comportamento reprodutivo de A. monroviae, espécie exótica registrada nos recifes rochosos da costa sudeste do Brasil.



Reef fishes have two major spawning strategies: pelagicspawning, in which buoyant eggs and sperm are shed directly into the water column, and demersal-spawning, in which adhesive eggs are placed on the bottom and usually are guarded by one or both parents until hatching into planktonic larvae (Thresher, 1984). Pelagic spawning species may either spawn in single male-female pairs, or in groups, and some species may even present both spawning strategies (Robertson, 1983; Thresher, 1984; Krajewski & Bonaldo, 2005). Knowledge of reproductive strategies provides important information on life-history and population dynamics of reef fishes, which are essential for a better understanding of their ecology, as well as for effective management (Sale, 2002; Sale et al., 2005).

The reproductive strategies of surgeonfishes of the genus Acanthurus (Perciformes: Acanthuridae) are well known for all species recorded for the Atlantic (Thresher, 1984; DeLoach, 1999) with exception of the Monrovia doctorfish, Acanthurus monroviae, restricted to areas with hard bottom (Randall, 2002) and whose biology remains largely unknown. The native distribution of A. monroviae is the tropical eastern Atlantic, along the coast of Africa (Morocco to Angola) and the São Tomé, Cape Verde and Canary Archipelagos, with recent records for the Mediterranean (Randall, 2002). Recently, an adult individual of A. monroviae was reported for the southeastern coast of Brazil (Luiz et al., 2004), and later two other individuals were sighted in the same area. The three individuals have similar sizes (35-45 cm) and their apparent site fidelity allowed for periodical observations of their behavior. Here we report on the reproductive behavior of this species, to the best of our knowledge for the first time. The behavior was recorded on 20 December 2008 (1240-1245 h), at the Laje de Santos Marine Park (about 24º15'S 46º10'W). Two individuals were observed swimming side by side in the water column at about 4 m down to about 20 m depth over a sand bottom adjacent to the rocky reef (see site description in Luiz et al., 2008). One of the individuals, presumably the male, first displayed itself to the presumed female (Fig. 1a) and then rolled under her (the pair with their bellies in contact), when they likely released gametes (Fig. 1b). After spawning once they repeated the sequence and then broke away (Fig. 1c). No color dimorphism was noticed between sexes.



Spawning in pairs or group is known for acanthurids, some species displaying both strategies (Robertson, 1983). Among western Atlantic surgeonfish species, group spawning is apparently the most common strategy although pair spawning is recorded for very small populations of Acanthurus bahianus and A. coeruleus (DeLoach, 1999). As there is no published information on the reproductive behavior of A. monroviae in its native range, where it aggregates in large schools (Randall, 2002; P. Wirtz, pers. comm.), it remains an open question whether pair spawning is a norm for this surgeonfish species or whether the behavior we recorded is due to reduced population of vagrant individuals.

The knowledge of factors related to success or failure of the establishment of populations in new areas after settlement is one major focus of studies on reef fish ecology (e. g., Robertson, 1988; Caley et al., 1996; Bariche et al., 2004, Figueira et al., 2009). In subtropical rocky reefs, where physical and biological conditions differ from those on tropical coral reefs (Perry & Larcombe, 2003), the settlement and establishment of "true" tropical fish species are not always successful, pending on an array of optimal conditions (McBride & Able, 1998; Figueira et al., 2009). Although the behavior here recorded for A. monroviae provides a first glance on its reproductive strategy, the expected chances of only three individuals to establish a reproductively viable population seem unlikely. Continuous monitoring of the individuals at our study site could provide important information on an expatriated tropical marine fish species (sensu Hare & Cowen, 1991) in a Brazilian rocky reef. Recent invasions of reef fish species in areas where they did not occur previously - e. g. Indo-Pacific lionfish in the north-west Atlantic (Whitfield et al., 2002), and Red Sea species in the Mediterranean Sea (Bariche et al., 2004) - raised concerns about the possibility of other exotic species establishing viable populations in localities where they may occur as vagrants. Reproductive activity of a species in a new area does not mean successful establishment, but is an important step in a bioinvasion scenario (Carlton, 1996).



We are grateful to the NGO "Instituto Laje Viva" (ILV) for the fieldwork assistance and logistic support provided, Alfredo Carvalho-Filho for assistance with literature and two anonymous reviewers for suggestions on the manuscript. Financial support was provided by CNPq (M.Sc. grant 135112/ 2007-9 to OJL, and productivity grants to IS and CELF).


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Accepted April 27, 2010
Published June 25, 2010

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