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Fish stand up for their mates

It turns out fish are a co-operative lot and look out for their mates’ best interests.

New research from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at Australia’s James Cook University has found that pairs of rabbitfishes will support each other while feeding, with one standing guard while the other eats.

“We found that rabbitfish pairs coordinate their vigilance activity quite strictly, thereby providing safety for their foraging partner,” says Dr Simon Brandl from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

“This behaviour is so far unique among fishes and appears to be based on reciprocal cooperation between pair members.”

But even so the findings are significant, as Brandl explains.

“There has been a long standing debate about whether reciprocal cooperation can exit in animals that lack the highly developed cognitive and social skills found in humans and a few species of birds and primates.

“By showing that fishes, which are commonly considered to be cold, unsocial, and unintelligent, are capable of negotiating reciprocal cooperative systems, we provide evidence that cooperation may not be as exclusive as previously assumed.”

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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