, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 6-12

Gape-limitation, foraging tactics and prey size selectivity of two microcarnivorous species of fish

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Patterns of prey size selectivity were quantified in the field for two species of marine microcarnivorous fish, Embiotoca jacksoni and Embiotoca lateralis (Embiotocidae) to test Scott and Murdoch's (1983) size spectrum hypothesis. Two mechanisms accounted for observed selectivity: the relative size of a fish in relation to its prey, and the type of foraging behavior used. Juvenile E. jacksoni were gape limited and newborn individuals achieved highest selectivity for the smallest prey size by using a visual picking foraging strategy. As young E. jacksoni grew, highest preference shifted to the next larger prey sizes. When E. jacksoni reached adulthood, the principal mode of foraging changed from visual picking to relatively indiscriminant winnowing behavior. The shift in foraging behavior by adults was accompanied by a decline in overall preference for prey size; sizes were taken nearly in proportion to their relative abundance. Adult E. lateralis retained a visual picking strategy and achieved highest selectivity for the largest class of prey. These differences in selectivity patterns by adult fish were not explained by gape-limination since adults of both species could ingest the largest prey items available to them. These results support Scott and Murdoch's (1983) hypothesis that the qualitative pattern of size selectivity depends largely on the range of available prey sizes relative to that a predator can effectively harvest.