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Swarthmore College

Publication Date

Fall 2023

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Coral reefs are highly productive and diverse underwater ecosystems, providing a variety of environmental services including sand generation, nutrient processing, fish supply, and tourism. However, coral reefs have been increasingly impacted by natural and anthropogenic disturbances, which has negatively affected fish security within their environment. A significant observation is the reduction in evasive behaviors among reef fish in marine reserves compared to those exposed to anthropogenic threats. The present research aims to investigate the factors mediating fish wariness behavior through an exploration of the roles of territoriality and body size on fish flight initiation distance (FID). FID is the distance at which an animal flees from an approaching threat, representing how wary that animal is. A point count transect sampling method was implemented at three different reef sites, Lime Point, Mid Point, and Conch Point, located along the Western coast of Isla Colón, Bocas del Toro, Panamá. Results revealed Pomacentridae, a highly territorial family, to have a decreased FID relative to the more sociable family, Scaridae. Furthermore, family body size was found to have a strong positive correlation with FID. Thus, territoriality and body size play an essential role in determining FID and how readily fish perceive an approaching threat. Overall, the current work helps enhance our understanding of the factors informing fish wariness behavior, and consequently, contributing key insights into how to design more effective reef conservation programs to preserve natural marine ecosystems.


Biodiversity | Latin American Studies | Marine Biology | Oceanography | Zoology


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