Characteristics of foraging in the soft-bottom benthic starfish Luidia clathrata (echinodermata: Asteroidea): prey selectivity, switching behavior, functional responses and movement patterns
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Luidia clathrata show a strong preference for the infaunal bivalve Mulinia lateralis in Tampa Bay, Florida. Quantitative and qualitative changes in diet occurred over a 7-month period. Individuals may shift from intraoral macrofaunal feeding to intra- and extraoral detrital feeding during periods of low macrofaunal availability. In the laboratory L. clathrata showed switching behavior, feeding disproportionately on the most abundant of two simulataneously presented food models. This switching mechanism may be related to either contact-chemoreceptive rejection of lowdensity food or enhanced distance-chemoreception of high density food. The use of standardized food models eliminated the possibility that handling time was important in switching behavior. Both fed and starved individuals showed functional responses to changes in prey density. However starved individuals ingested greater numbers of prey and spent more time foraging than did fed individuals. Switching and functional response behaviors may be important in promoting nutritional uptake and in causing density-dependent mortality of prey populations. Movement patterns of L. clathrata are directional in the absence of bivalve prey, but become non-directional once patches of prey are encountered. This allows individuals to remain in areas of high prey density. Luidia clathrata has characteristics of an optimal forager, where energy is maximized per unit feeding time.
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