Researchers from James Cook University in North Queensland, Australia have made a startling discovery: gobies intentionally deprive themselves of food to avoid conflict with their rulers. Goby society is lorded over by the largest males and females and these are the only individuals allowed to breed. If a smaller goby tries to jump the queue and mate, it will be expelled from the group by the bigger fish. However, all is not peaches and cream at the top, as competition between the larger fish to establish dominance is fierce. Therefore, smaller gobies will often stop eating as they approach the size of the larger fish in order to stay out of trouble.
Dr. Marion Wong of James Cook University explained, “I’ve done experiments where I feed a subordinate fish and initially it will eat loads, but as it grows and as it gets to this five per cent difference in size it will just suddenly stop eating.”
“Punishment and cooperation have been notoriously difficult to demonstrate in such high animals such as apes because their behaviour is a lot more complex,” she continued.”
“With these gobies it’s a lot easier to visualise and measure and quantify cooperation.”