What is it about?

Manta rays are often observed in association with hitchhiker fish species, such as the golden trevally and members of the remora family. It has been suggested that hitchhiking behaviour evolved to gain protection from predation, enhance foraging opportunities, increase locomotor efficiency, and increase encounters with mates. We explored the spatial and temporal variation in the presence of hitchhikers with reef and oceanic manta rays throughout the Maldives and investigated the factors which may influence association.

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Why is it important?

Species interactions, rather than the species at the individual level, determine the ecological processes that drive community dynamics, support biodiversity and ecosystem health. Thus, understanding the associations within marine communities is critical to implementing effective conservation and management. We identified patterns of association in the presence of a range of hitchhiker species, with spatiotemporal variation in the presence of manta rays acting as a driver for the occurrence of ephemeral hitchhiker associations. Until now, these interactions have remained undocumented or briefly addressed in the literature.


Despite biological associations often being one of the first components of biodiversity to be altered by abiotic change, the associations between interacting species are often overlooked in regard to our changing world. I hope that the study serves as a basis for a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationships and other associations which occur between manta rays and their hitchhikers, which in turn will ultimately elucidate our knowledge of both the host and the hosted in a more ecologically meaningful way.

Aimee Nicholson-Jack
University of Bristol

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A hitchhiker guide to manta rays: Patterns of association between Mobula alfredi, M. birostris, their symbionts, and other fishes in the Maldives, PLoS ONE, July 2021, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253704.
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