A morphological and functional basis for maximum prey size in piscivorous fishes

Mihalitsis, Michalis, and Bellwood, David R. (2017) A morphological and functional basis for maximum prey size in piscivorous fishes. PLoS ONE, 12 (9). e0184679.

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Fish predation is important in shaping populations and community structure in aquatic systems. These predator-prey interactions can be influenced by environmental, behavioural and morphological factors. Morphological constraints influence the feeding performance of species, and interspecific differences can thus affect patterns of resource use. For piscivorous fishes that swallow prey whole, feeding performance has traditionally been linked to three key morphological constraints: oral gape, pharyngeal gape, and the cleithral gape. However, other constraints may be important. We therefore examine 18 potential morphological constraints related to prey capture and processing, on four predatory species (Cephalopholis urodeta, Paracirrhites forsteri, Pterois volitans, Lates calcarifer). Aquarium-based experiments were then carried out to determine capture and processing behaviour and maximum prey size in two focal species, C. urodeta and P. forsteri. All four species showed a progressive decrease in gape measurements from anterior to posterior with oral gape ≥ buccal ≥ pharyngeal ≥ pectoral girdle ≥ esophagus ≥ stomach. C. urodeta was able to process prey with a maximum depth of 27% of the predators’ standard length; for P. forsteri it was 20%. C. urodeta captured prey head-first in 79% of successful strikes. In P. forsteri head-first was 16.6%, mid-body 44.4%, and tail-first 38.8%. Regardless of capture mode, prey were almost always swallowed head first and horizontally in both focal species. Most internal measurements appeared too small for prey to pass through. This may reflect the compressibility of prey, i.e. their ability to be dorsoventrally compressed during swallowing movements. Despite examining all known potential morphological constraints on prey size, horizontal maxillary oral gape in a mechanically stretched position appears to be the main morphological variable that is likely to affect maximum prey size and resource use by these predatory species.

Item ID: 51015
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
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Copyright: © 2017 Mihalitsis, Bellwood. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC DRB: grant number CE140100020
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2017 07:43
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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