, Volume 84, Issue 2, pp 272–279 | Cite as

Versatility and specialization in labrid fishes: ecomorphological implications

  • S. Laurie Sanderson
Original Papers


The term “specialized” has been used to describe species that possess unique functional attributes and/or a narrow, stereotyped range of attributes, but there are few comparative functional analyses of specialists and generalists. If species with functional morphological specializations are capable of functioning over a broad range, the link between morphology and ecology may be relaxed under certain environmental conditions. In this study, high-speed films of jaw movements during prey capture were compared statistically for three coexisting coral reef fish species in the family Labridae, one trophic specialist and two trophic generalists. The trophic specialist possessed a unique functional feature related to the movement of the hyoid in the floor of the mouth, while the trophic generalists were not observed to possess any functional specializations. All three species showed functional versatility in that they were able to adjust their prey capture mechanism in response to the evasive potential of the prey. The functional versatility of trophic specialists has implications for ecomorphological studies, since species characterized as possessing unique functional or morphological features may demonstrate marked flexibility in ecological variables such as diet or foraging behavior, decreasing the likelihood of identifying correlations between morphology and ecology.

Key words

Trophic specialist Ecomorphology Functional morphology Prey capture Generalist 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alexander RMcN (1967) The functions and mechanisms of the protrusible upper jaws of some acanthopterygian fish. J Zool Lond 151:43–64Google Scholar
  2. Alexander RMcN (1988) The scope and aims of functional and ecological morphology. Neth J Zool 38:3–22Google Scholar
  3. Baker MC (1979) Morphological correlates of habitat selection in a community of shorebirds (Charadriiformes). Oikos 33:121–126Google Scholar
  4. Barel CDN (1983) Towards a constructional morphology of cichlid fishes (Teleostei, Perciformes). Neth J Zool 33:357–424Google Scholar
  5. Benkman CW (1988) Seed handling ability, bill structure, and the cost of specialization for crossbills. Auk 105:715–719Google Scholar
  6. Boag PT, Grant PR (1981) Intense natural selection in a population of Darwin's finches (Geospizinae) in the Galapagos. Science 214:82–85Google Scholar
  7. Brainerd EL (1985) An experimental analysis of prey capture mechanisms in teleost fishes with implications for present hydrodynamical models of suction feeding. Honors Thesis, Harvard University, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  8. Calow P (1987) Towards a definition of functional ecology. Funct Ecol 1:57–61Google Scholar
  9. Chu CT (1989) Functional design and prey capture dynamics in an ecologically generalized surfperch (Embiotocidae). J Zool Lond 217:417–440Google Scholar
  10. Curio E (1976) The ethology of predation. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Day RW, Quinn GP (1989) Comparisons of treatments after an analysis of variance in ecology. Ecol Monogr 59:433–463Google Scholar
  12. Drummond H (1983) Aquatic foraging in garter snakes: a comparison of specialists and generalists. Behav 86:1–30Google Scholar
  13. Drummond H, Macias Garcia C (1989) Limitations of a generalist: a field comparison of foraging snakes. Behav 108:23–43Google Scholar
  14. Dunning JB Jr (1986) Shrub-steppe bird assemblages revisited: implications for community theory. Am Nat 128:82–98Google Scholar
  15. Elshoud-Oldenhave MJW (1979) Prey capture in the pike-perch, Stizostedion lucioperca (Teleostei, Percidae): a structural and functional analysis. Zoomorph 93:1–32Google Scholar
  16. Endler JA (1986) Natural selection in the wild. Monographs in Population Biology, Number 21. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  17. Findley JS, Black H (1983) Morphological and dietary structuring of a Zambian insectivorous bat community. Ecology 64:625–630Google Scholar
  18. Fryer G (1988) Functional morphology and functional ecology. Funct Ecol 2:270–275Google Scholar
  19. Futuyma DJ, Moreno G (1988) The evolution of ecological specialization. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 19:207–233Google Scholar
  20. Gottfried MD (1986) Developmental transition in feeding morphology of the Midas cichlid. Copeia 1986:1028–1030Google Scholar
  21. Grossman GD (1986) Food resource partitioning in a rocky intertidal fish assemblage. J Zool Lond (B) 1:317–355Google Scholar
  22. Harder LD (1985) Morphology as a predictor of flower choice by bumble bees. Ecology 66:198–210Google Scholar
  23. Heiser JB (1981) Review of the labrid genus Thalassoma (Pisces: Teleostei). Dissertation. Cornell University, Ithaca, NYGoogle Scholar
  24. Hespenheide HA (1973) Ecological inferences from morphological data. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 4:213–229Google Scholar
  25. Hintzpeter U, Bauer T (1986) The antennal setal trap of the ground beetle Loricera pilicornis: a specialization for feeding on collembola. J Zool Lond 208:615–630Google Scholar
  26. Hobson ES (1974) Feeding relationships of teleostean fishes on coral reefs in Kona, Hawaii. Fish Bull 72:915–1031Google Scholar
  27. Holm E (1985) The evolution of generalist and specialist species. In: Vrba ES (ed) Species and speciation. Transvaal Museum Monograph No. 4, Pretoria, South Africa, pp 87–93Google Scholar
  28. Huey RB, Hertz PE (1984) Is a jack-of-all-trades a master of none? Evolution 38:441–444Google Scholar
  29. Jackson RR, Hallas SEA (1986) Capture efficiencies of web-building jumping spiders (Araneae, Salticidae): is the jack-of-all-trades the master of none? J Zool Lond 209:1–7Google Scholar
  30. Jolly A (1985) The evolution of primate behavior. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Karr JR, James FC (1975) Eco-morphological configurations and convergent evolution in species and communities. In: Cody ML, Diamond JM (eds) Ecology and evolution of communities. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp 258–291Google Scholar
  32. Klopfer PH, MacArthur RH (1960) Niche size and faunal diversity. Am Nat 94:293–300Google Scholar
  33. Lauder GV Jr (1981) Intraspecific functional repertoires in the feeding mechanism of the characoid fishes Lebiasina, Hoplias and Chalceus. Copeia 1981:154–168Google Scholar
  34. Lauder GV (1983) Functional and morphological bases of trophic specialization in sunfishes (Teleostei, Centrarchidae). J Morph 178:1–21Google Scholar
  35. Laverty TM, Plowright RC (1988) Flower handling by bumblebees: a comparison of specialists and generalists. Anim Behav 36:733–740Google Scholar
  36. Lederer RJ (1984) A view of avian ecomorphological hypotheses. Okologie der Vogel 6:119–126Google Scholar
  37. Leisler B (1980) Morphological aspects of ecological specialization in bird genera. Okologie der Vogel 2:199–220Google Scholar
  38. Leisler B, Winkler H (1985) Ecomorphology. In: Johnston RF (ed) Current ornithology, vol 2. Plenum Press, New York, pp 155–186Google Scholar
  39. Liem KF (1970) Comparative functional anatomy of the Nandidae (Pisces: Teleostei). Fieldiana: Zool 56:1–166Google Scholar
  40. Liem KF (1978) Modulatory multiplicity in the functional repertoire of the feeding mechanism in cichlid fishes. I. Piscivores. J Morph 158:323–360Google Scholar
  41. Liem KF (1979) Modulatory multiplicity in the feeding mechanism in cichlid fishes, as exemplified by the invertebrate pickers of Lake Tanganyika. J Zool Lond 189:93–125Google Scholar
  42. Liem KF (1980a) Adaptive significance of intra- and interspecific differences in the feeding repertoires of cichlid fishes. Am Zool 20:295–314Google Scholar
  43. Liem KF (1980b) Acquisition of energy by teleosts: adaptive mechanisms and evolutionary patterns. In: Ali MA (ed) Environmental physiology of fishes. Plenum, New York, pp 299–334Google Scholar
  44. Liem KF (1984) Functional versatility, speciation, and niche overlap: are fishes different? In: Meyers DG, Strickler JR (eds) Trophic interactions within aquatic ecosystems. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, pp 269–305Google Scholar
  45. Liem KF, Kaufman LS (1984) Intraspecific macroevolution: functional biology of the polymorphic cichlid species Cichlasoma minckleyi. In: Echelle AA, Kornfield I (eds) Evolution of fish species flocks. University of Maine at Orono Press, Orono, Maine, pp 203–215Google Scholar
  46. Liem KF, Sanderson SL (1986) The pharyngeal jaw apparatus of labrid fishes: a functional morphological perspective. J Morph 187:143–158Google Scholar
  47. MacArthur RH (1972) Geographical ecology. Harper and Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  48. McKaye KR, Marsh A (1983) Food switching by two specialized algae-scraping cichlid fishes in Lake Malawi, Africa. Oecological 56:245–248Google Scholar
  49. Meyer A (1989) Cost of morphological specialization: feeding performance of the two morphs in the trophically polymorphic cichlid fish, Cichlasoma citrinellum. Oecologia 80:431–436Google Scholar
  50. Miles DB, Ricklefs RE (1984) The correlation between ecology and morphology in deciduous forest passerine birds. Ecology 65:1629–1640Google Scholar
  51. Miles DB, Ricklefs RE, Travis J (1987) Concordance of ecomor-phological relationships in three assemblages of passerine birds. Am Nat 129:347–364Google Scholar
  52. Miller RG, Jr (1981) Simultaneous statistical inference, 2nd ed. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New YorkGoogle Scholar
  53. Morse DH (1980) Behavioral mechanisms in ecology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  54. Motta PJ (1988) Functional morphology of the feeding apparatus of ten species of Pacific butterflyfishes (Perciformes, Chaetodontidae): an ecomorphological approach. Env Biol Fish 22:39–67Google Scholar
  55. Nentwig W (1986) Non-webbuilding spiders: prey specialists or generalists? Oecologia 69:571–576Google Scholar
  56. Neter J, Wasserman W, Kutner MH (1985) Applied linear statistical models, 2nd ed. Irwin Inc, Homewood, IllinoisGoogle Scholar
  57. Nyberg DW (1971) Prey capture in the largemouth bass. Am Midl Nat 86:128–144Google Scholar
  58. Osse JWM (1969) Functional morphology of the head of the perch (Perca fluviatilis L.): an electromyographic study. Neth J Zool 19:289–392Google Scholar
  59. Parrish JL, Taylor L, DeCrosta M, Feldkamp S, Sanderson L, Sorden C (1980) Trophic studies of shallow-water fish communities in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In: Grigg RW, Pfund RT (eds) Proceedings of the symposium on status of resource investigations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Sea Grant Miscellaneous Report UNIHI-SEAGRANT-MR-80-04. University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, pp 175–188Google Scholar
  60. Paszkowski CA (1986) Foraging site use and interspecific competition between bluegills and golden shiners. Env Biol Fish 17:227–233Google Scholar
  61. Price TD, Grant PR, Gibbs HL, Boag PT (1984) Recurrent patterns of natural selection in a population of Darwin's finches. Nature 309:787–789Google Scholar
  62. Rand DM, Lauder GV (1981) Prey capture in the chain pickerel, Esox niger: correlations between feeding and locomotor behavior. Can J Zool 59:1072–1078Google Scholar
  63. Reif W-E (1983) Functional morphology and evolutionary ecology. Paläont Z 57:255–266Google Scholar
  64. Rice WR (1989) Analyzing tables of statistical tests. Evolution 43:223–225Google Scholar
  65. Ricklefs RE, Cox GW (1977) Morphological similarity and ecological overlap among passerine birds on St. Kitts, British West Indies. Oikos 29:60–66Google Scholar
  66. Ricklefs RE, Travis J (1980) A morphological approach to the study of avian community organization. Auk 97:321–338Google Scholar
  67. Ricklefs RE, Cochran D, Pianka ER (1981) A morphological analysis of the structure of communities of lizards in desert habitats. Ecology 62:1474–1483Google Scholar
  68. Sanderson SL (1988) Variation in neuromuscular activity during prey capture by trophic specialists and generalists (Pisces: Labridae). Brain Behav Evol 32:257–268Google Scholar
  69. SAS (1982) Statistical analysis system. SAS Inst, Cary, NCGoogle Scholar
  70. Scheffe H (1959) The analysis of variance. John Wiley and Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  71. Schluter D, Grant PR (1984) Ecological correlates of morphological evolution in a Darwin's finch, Geospiza difficilis. Evolution 38:856–869Google Scholar
  72. Schluter D, Smith JNM (1986) Natural selection on beak and body size in the song sparrow. Evolution 40:221–231Google Scholar
  73. Schoener TW (1982) The controversy over interspecific competition. Am Sci 70:586–595Google Scholar
  74. Shaffer HB, Lauder GV (1985) Patterns of variation in aquatic ambystomatid salamanders: kinematics of the feeding mechanism. Evolution 39:83–92Google Scholar
  75. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1981) Biometry, 2nd ed. W.H. Freeman, San Francisco, CAGoogle Scholar
  76. Strickler K (1979) Specialization and foraging efficiency of solitary bees. Ecology 60:998–1009Google Scholar
  77. Wainwright PC (1987) Biomechanical limits to ecological performance: mollusc-crushing by the Caribbean hogfish, Lachnolaimus maximus (Labridae). J Zool Lond 213:283–297Google Scholar
  78. Wainwright PC (1988) Morphology and ecology: functional basis of feeding constraints in Caribbean labrid fishes. Ecology 69:635–645Google Scholar
  79. Westoby M (1978) What are the biological bases of varied diets? Am Nat 112:627–631Google Scholar
  80. Wiens JA (1977) On competition and variable environments. Am Sci 65:590–597Google Scholar
  81. Wiens JA, Rotenberry JT (1987) Shrub-steppe birds and the generality of community models: a response to Dunning. Am Nat 129:920–927Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Laurie Sanderson
    • 1
  1. 1.Museum of Comparative ZoologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations