Rank change and growth within social hierarchies of the orange clownfish, Amphiprion percula

Lucy Fitzgerald, Hugo B. Harrison, Darren James Coker, Pablo Saenz-Agudelo, M. Srinivasan, John E. Majoris, L. Boström Einarsson, Benoit Pujol, Morgan Bennett-Smith, Simon R. Thorrold, S. Planes, G. P. Jones, Michael L. Berumen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social hierarchies within groups define the distribution of resources and provide benefits that support the collective group or favor dominant members. The progression of individuals through social hierarchies is a valuable characteristic for quantifying population dynamics. On coral reefs, some clownfish maintain size-based hierarchical communities where individuals queue through social ranks. The cost of waiting in a lower-ranked position is outweighed by the reduced risk of eviction and mortality. The orange clownfish, Amphiprion percula, maintains stable social groups with subordinate individuals queuing to be part of the dominant breeding pair. Strong association with their host anemone, complex social interactions, and relatively low predation rates make them ideal model organisms to assess changes in group dynamics through time in their natural environment. Here, we investigate the rank changes and isometric growth rates of A. percula from 247 naturally occurring social groups in Kimbe Island, Papua New Guinea (5° 12′ 13.54″ S, 150° 22′ 32.69″ E). We used DNA profiling to assign and track individuals over eight years between 2011 and 2019. Over half of the individuals survived alongside two or three members of their original social group, with twelve breeding pairs persisting over the study period. Half of the surviving individuals increased in rank and experienced double the growth rate of those that maintained their rank. Examining rank change in a wild fish population provides new insights into the complex social hierarchies of reef fishes and their role in social evolution.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 5 2022

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2022-10-07
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank everyone who assisted us in the field, including B. Cresswell and G. Galbraith. Additionally, we acknowledge the Mahonia Na Dari Research Station and the crew of the M. V. Febrina for providing logistical support. We thank U. Langner (KAUST), who assisted with the maps. Lastly, we also thank the anonymous reviewers for their help and feedback on this paper. This research was supported by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (baseline funds to MLB), the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (DP190103056 to GPJ), and the Australian Research Council. HBH was supported by an ARC DECRA Fellowship (DE160101141).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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