Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 97–113

Predicting patterns of prey use from morphology of fishes


  • Peter C. Wainwright
    • Department of Biological ScienceFlorida State University
  • Barton A. Richard
    • Department of Biological ScienceFlorida State University

DOI: 10.1007/BF00005909

Cite this article as:
Wainwright, P.C. & Richard, B.A. Environ Biol Fish (1995) 44: 97. doi:10.1007/BF00005909


Ecomorphological analyses that search for patterns of association between morphological and prey-use data sets will have a greater chance of understanding the causal relationships between form and diet if the morphological variables used have known consequences for feeding performance. We explore the utility of fish body size, mouth gape and jaw-lever mechanics in predicting patterns of prey use in two very different communities of fishes, Caribbean coral reef fishes, and species of the Centrarchidae that live in Lake Opinicon, Ontario. In spite of major differences in the spectrum of potential prey available, the centrarchids of Lake Opinicon show dietary transitions during ontogeny that are very similar to those seen among and within species of Caribbean groupers (Serranidae). The transition from small zooplankton to intermediate sized invertebrates and ultimately to fishes appears to be very general in ram-suction feeding fishes and is probably driven largely by the constraints of mouth size on prey capture ability. The jaw-lever systems for mouth opening and closing represent direct trade-offs for speed and force of jaw movement. The ratio of in-lever to out-lever in the opening system changes during ontogeny in bluegill, indicating that the mechanics and kinematics of jaw movement may change as well. Among 34 species of Caribbean reef fishes, biting species had jaw-closing ratios that favored force translation, while species that employ rapid-strike ram-suction had closing ratios that enhanced speed of closing and mouth opening ratios that favored a more rapid expansion of the mouth during the strike. We suggest that when prey are categorized into functional groups, reflecting the specific performance features that are important in capturing and handling them, and the differences among habitats in the available prey resource are taken into account, general patterns can be found in morphology-diet relations that cross phylogenetic boundaries.

Key words:

Ecomorphology Serranidae Centrachidae Jaw mechanics Gape limited feeding Allometry Feeding ecology

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995