Predatory reef fishes regularly visit mutualistic cleaner fish (Labroides dimidiatus) to get their ectoparasites removed but show no interest in eating them. The concept of compensated trait loss posits that characters can be lost if a mutualistic relationship reduces the need for a given trait. Thus, selective pressures on escape performance might have relaxed in L. dimidiatus due to its privileged relationship with predators. However, the cost of failing to escape a predatory strike is extreme even if predation events on cleaners are exceptionally rare. Additionally, cleaners must escape from non-predatory clients that regularly punish them for eating mucus instead of parasites. Therefore, strong escape capabilities might instead be maintained in cleaner fish because they must be able to flee when in close proximity to predators or dissatisfied clients. We compared the fast-start escape performance of L. dimidiatus with that of five closely related wrasse species and found that the mutualistic relationship that cleaners entertain with predators has not led to reduced escape performance. Instead, conflicts in cleaning interactions appear to have maintained selective pressures on this trait, suggesting that compensated trait loss might only evolve in cases of high interdependence between mutualistic partners that are not tempted to cheat.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3734404.
- Received November 9, 2016.
- Accepted March 20, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.