, Volume 703, Issue 1, pp 113-131
Date: 25 Oct 2012

Comparative feeding ecology of invasive Ponto-Caspian gobies

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Invasions of Ponto-Caspian gobiid fishes are suspected to cause regime shifts in freshwater ecosystems. This study compared the trophic niche differentiations of Neogobius melanostomus and Ponticola kessleri in the upper Danube River using stable isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N), gut content analyses and morphometric analyses of the digestive tract. Both species were identified as predacious omnivores with high dietary overlap and a generalistic feeding strategy. Amphipods (especially invasive Dikerogammarus spp.) contributed 2/3 to the index of food importance. δ15N-signatures of N. melanostomus revealed an ontogenetic diet shift and significantly exceeded those in P. kessleri by ~1.5‰, indicating a niche separation of half a trophic level. P. kessleri had shorter uncoiled intestinal tracts than N. melanostomus, indicating a narrower niche and adaptation to animal food. Trophic niches in both species expanded during the growth period with increasing intraguild predation and cannibalism in P. kessleri and increasing molluscivory in N. melanostomus. P. kessleri showed a higher degree of specialization and more stable feeding patterns across seasons, whereas N. melanostomus adapted its diet according to the natural prey availability. The feeding patterns of both species observed in the upper Danube River strongly differ from those in their native ranges, underlining their great plasticity. Both goby species consumed mainly other non-native species (~92% of gut contents) and seemed to benefit from previous invasions of prey species like Dikerogammarus villosus. The invasive success of gobies and their prey mirror fundamental ecological changes in large European freshwater ecosystems.

Handling editor: David J. Hoeinghaus