A morphological and functional basis for maximum prey size in piscivorous fishes
by Michalis Mihalitsis, David R. BellwoodFish 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.
Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article
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