Behavior

Surfperches are unusual among marine teleosts in that they do not go through a planktonic dispersal stage as eggs or larvae; they are somewhat large when they are born and stay in the general vicinity as they mature. Many cichlids, especially those that occupy specialized lacustrine habitats, behave similarly. Although most cichlids do not defend feeding territories, some cichlids in the African Great Lakes do defend separate feeding and breeding territories. Those that defend feeding territories are predominantly algae feeders, and some herbivorous species subvert such territoriality by forming large schools that barrage an algal mat with a few individuals at a time, diluting the aggression of the territory holder so that algae can be stolen. In captivity, the territoriality and aggression of many cichlids has given the family a particular notoriety among aquarists.

In some cichlids, older siblings assist their parents in guarding new clutches of fry, an investment that can be explained evolutionarily because it increases the share of both the parents' and helpers' genes in the next generation. Consider, however, the few examples of cichlids that help guard the offspring of another species of cichlids, a behavior that at first defies explanation. One tantalizing explanation for such behavior on the part of the moga (Cichlasoma nicarag├╝ense), males of which sometimes help guard the fry of the guapote (C. dovii), is that larger numbers of piscivorous C. dovii help to increase the reproductive success of C. nicaraguense by preying upon and reducing the numbers of poor man's tropheus (Neetroplus nematopus), a nest-site competitor of the helper species. This interpretation, while intriguing, is still controversial.

Blue discus (Symphysodon aequifasciata haraldi) are popular aquarium fish. (Photo by Hans Reinhard /Okapia/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
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