Frequency-dependent success of aggressive mimics in a cleaning symbiosis

Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Dec 22;272(1581):2635-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3256.


Batesian mimics--palatable organisms that resemble unpalatable ones--are usually maintained in populations by frequency-dependent selection. We tested whether this mechanism was also responsible for the maintenance of aggressive mimicry in natural populations of coral reef fishes. The attack success of bluestriped fangblennies (Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos), which mimic juvenile bluestreaked cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus) in colour but tear flesh and scales from fishes instead of removing ectoparasites, was frequency-dependent, increasing as mimics became rarer relative to their model. However, cleaner mimics were also more successful on reefs with higher densities of potential victims, perhaps because a dilution-like effect creates few opportunities for potential victims to learn to avoid mimics. Further studies should reveal whether this second mechanism is specific to aggressive mimicry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / parasitology
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Ectoparasitic Infestations / parasitology
  • Ectoparasitic Infestations / veterinary
  • Fish Diseases / parasitology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Perciformes / parasitology
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Species Specificity
  • Symbiosis / physiology*