Effects of prey abundance, distribution, visual contrast and morphology on selection by a pelagic piscivore

Freshwater Biology
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  1. Most predators eat only a subset of possible prey. However, studies evaluating diet selection rarely measure prey availability in a manner that accounts for temporal–spatial overlap with predators, the sensory mechanisms employed to detect prey, and constraints on prey capture.
  2. We evaluated the diet selection of cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) feeding on a diverse planktivore assemblage in Lake Washington to test the hypothesis that the diet selection of piscivores would reflect random (opportunistic) as opposed to non-random (targeted) feeding, after accounting for predator–prey overlap, visual detection and capture constraints.
  3. Diets of cutthroat trout were sampled in autumn 2005, when the abundance of transparent, age-0 longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys) was low, and 2006, when the abundance of smelt was nearly seven times higher. Diet selection was evaluated separately using depth-integrated and depth-specific (accounted for predator–prey overlap) prey abundance. The abundance of different prey was then adjusted for differences in detectability and vulnerability to predation to see whether these factors could explain diet selection.
  4. In 2005, cutthroat trout fed non-randomly by selecting against the smaller, transparent age-0 longfin smelt, but for the larger age-1 longfin smelt. After adjusting prey abundance for visual detection and capture, cutthroat trout fed randomly. In 2006, depth-integrated and depth-specific abundance explained the diets of cutthroat trout well, indicating random feeding. Feeding became non-random after adjusting for visual detection and capture. Cutthroat trout selected strongly for age-0 longfin smelt, but against similar sized threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and larger age-1 longfin smelt in 2006. Overlap with juvenile sockeye salmon (O. nerka) was minimal in both years, and sockeye salmon were rare in the diets of cutthroat trout.
  5. The direction of the shift between random and non-random selection depended on the presence of a weak versus a strong year class of age-0 longfin smelt. These fish were easy to catch, but hard to see. When their density was low, poor detection could explain their rarity in the diet. When their density was high, poor detection was compensated by higher encounter rates with cutthroat trout, sufficient to elicit a targeted feeding response. The nature of the feeding selectivity of a predator can be highly dependent on fluctuations in the abundance and suitability of key prey.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Effects of prey abundance, distribution, visual contrast and morphology on selection by a pelagic piscivore
Series title Freshwater Biology
DOI 10.1111/fwb.12436
Volume 59
Issue 11
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 14 p.
First page 2328
Last page 2341
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Lake Washington
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