Original Papers


, Volume 80, Issue 3, pp 431-436

First online:

Cost of morphological specialization: feeding performance of the two morphs in the trophically polymorphic cichlid fish, Cichlasoma citrinellum

  • A. MeyerAffiliated withMuseum of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of Zoology, University of California

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The feeding performance on soft and hard prey of two morphs of the trophically polymorphic Neotropical cichlid fish, Cichlasoma citrinellum, was investigated in the laboratory. The molariform morphs, specialized to feed on hard prey, are able to crack snail shells that are twice as hard as those cracked by the papilliform morphs. During ecological bottlenecks in food resources this ability should allow molariform morphs to exploit alternate, less preferred prey sources that are not available to papilliform morphs. Analysis of stomach contents revealed that molariform morphs feed significantly more often on hard snails than do papilliform morphs (Meyer 1989a). The performance advantage of the trophically specialized morphs when feeding on hard prey is countered by their less efficient performance on soft diets. The morphologically generalized papilliform morph feeds more efficiently on soft prey. The abundance of preferred soft prey, seasonal fluctuations in prey availability and the frequency of ecological bottlenecks may determine the relative abundance of these two morphs in natural populations in Nicaraguan lakes.

Key words

Trophic polymorphism Morphological adaptation Cost of specialization Molluscivorous cichlids