Reputation management promotes strategic adjustment of service quality in cleaner wrasse.Sci Rep. 2017 08 21; 7(1):8425.SR
Adjusting one's behaviour in response to eavesdropping bystanders is considered a sophisticated social strategy, yet the underlying mechanisms are not well studied. Cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, cooperate by eating ectoparasites off "client" fishes, or cheat (i.e. bite) and eat client mucus. Image scoring by bystander clients generally causes cleaners from socially-complex (i.e. high cleaner and client abundance; high client species richness) habitats to increase levels of cooperation. However, some individuals may periodically provide tactile stimulation to small resident clients, which attract bystanders close that are bitten, a form of tactical deception. Cortisol injection can reproduce this pattern. Here, we tested whether cleaners from socially-complex versus simple habitats respond differently to cortisol injections in terms of their cleaning interactions with clients. We found that only cleaners from the socially-complex habitat respond to cortisol injection with strategies functioning as tactical deception: i.e. increased tactile stimulation to small clients and increased cheating of large clients relative to small ones. At the socially-simple site, where reputation management is less important, cortisol-treated fish increased their overall levels of cheating, especially of small clients. Thus, strategic adjustments to cooperative behaviour and tactical deception are likely context-dependent, forming part of general reputation management abilities in cleaner wrasse.