Biological Market examples:

Cleaning mutualisms

Cleaner fish – client interactions are good examples of mutualistic interactions between members of different species in which different commodities are traded: the cleaner removes ecto-parasites and the client transports food to the cleaner's territory. The supply and demand of both commodities varies over time.


Redouan Bshary concentrated on partner choice as the crucial factor driving markets. He compared interactions of cleaners with 'residents', i.e. clients that had access to only a single cleaning station and 'floaters', i.e. clients that could choose between multiple cleaning stations.

As predicted the floaters were serviced faster and better than the residents.

More recently Thomas Adam (2010) also showed that clients with choice options receive better service than those that don't by studying the interactions of cleaners with a single client species, the ornate butterfly fish.

Other well-studied cleaning mutualisms with cleaning gobies (Soares et al). and cleaner shrimp (Becker et al.) , show both similar and contrasting results.

Key references:

Adam, T. C. 2010. Competition encourages cooperation: client fish receive higher-quality service when cleaner fish compete. Animal Behaviour, in press.(see also editorial by Searcy, W. A. 2010. Customer service in cleaner fish)

Becker, J. H. A., Curtis, L. M. & Grutter, A. S. 2005. Cleaner shrimp use a rocking dance to advertise cleaning service to clients. Current Biology, 15, 760-764.

Becker, J. H. A. & Grutter, A. S. 2005. Client fish ectoparasite loads and cleaner shrimp Urocaridella sp. c hunger levels affect cleaning behaviour. Animal Behaviour, 70, 991-996.

Bshary R (2001) The cleaner fish market. In In: Noë, R.; van Hooff, J.A.R.A.M. & Hammerstein, P. (eds.) Economics in Nature. Social Dilemmas, Mate Choice and Biological Markets. Cambridge Univ. Press. pp. 146-172

Bshary R, Grutter AS (2002) Experimental evidence that partner choice is a driving force in the payoff distribution among cooperators or mutualists: the cleaner fish case. Ecology Letters 51: 130-136

Bshary R, Schäffer D (2002) Choosy reef fish select cleaner fish that provide high-quality service. Animal Behaviour 63: 557-564

Bshary R, Noë R (2003) Biological Markets: the ubiquitous influence of partner choice on the dynamics of cleaner fish-client reef fish interactions. In Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation., Hammerstein P (ed), pp 167-184.: MIT Press. Cambridge, Mass.

Mills, S. C. & Côté, I. M. 2010. Crime and punishment in a roaming cleanerfish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277, 3617-3622.

Soares, M. C., Bshary, R., Cardoso, S. C. & Cote, I. M. 2008. Does competition for clients increase service quality in cleaning gobies? Ethology, 114, 625-632.

Soares, M. C., Coté, I. M., Cardoso, S. C. & Bshary, R. 2008. The cleaning goby mutualism: a system without punishment, partner switching or tactile stimulation. Journal of Zoology, 276, 306-312.

Soares, M. C., Côté, I. M., Cardoso, S. C., Oliveira, R. F. & Bshary, R. 2010. Caribbean cleaning gobies prefer client ectoparasites over mucus. Ethology, 116, 1244-1248.