Aquatic Sciences

, 81:31 | Cite as

Fish feeding groups, food selectivity, and diet shifts associated with environmental factors and prey availability along a large subtropical river, China

  • Sai Wang
  • Jin-Peng Tang
  • Lin-Hui Su
  • Jing-Jing Fan
  • Hao-Yen Chang
  • Tuan-Tuan Wang
  • Lin Wang
  • Hsing-Juh Lin
  • Yang YangEmail author
Research Article


Understanding spatial variation in fish trophic structures along large river systems remains a challenge, and the influence of fish food selectivity and diet shifts on these structures remains unknown. In this study, the assemblage composition and stomach contents of fish in the subtropical East River of southern China were analyzed to determine their diet composition (DC) and identify prey-oriented feeding groups. Ten prey items were identified and used to cluster 106 fish species into 23 feeding groups. The number of groups increased longitudinally due to the accumulated emergence of site-specific prey sources in fish DC, although this number decreased sharply near the estuary due to the loss of insectivorous fish. The fish assemblages showed a longitudinal decrease in abundance and an increase in biomass, with higher values observed in the rainy season than the dry season. A downstream decrease in insectivores and epiphytivores and increase in detritivores and molluscivores represented the basic patterns observed along the river. Seven widespread fish species exhibited spatial dietary shifts, among which three generalist feeders with a high abundance notably influenced the fish trophic structures, and four specialist feeders with high food selectivity were significantly (P < 0.05) correlated with prey availability. Multivariate data analysis showed that the flow velocity, water depth, riffle areas, and nutrient concentrations were the key environmental factors that determined the distribution of fish feeding groups, while hydrophytes, plant debris, Ephemeroptera and Odonata insects, and Atyidae shrimp were the key prey sources.


East River Stomach content analysis Diet composition Prey items Fish trophic structure Widespread species 



The research was financially supported by the Joint Funds of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (no. U1501235 and U1405234) and Science and Technology Program of Guangzhou, China (no. 201704020158). We thank Nora F. Y. Tam for fruitful discussions and comments on earlier versions of this manuscript and anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism.

Author contributions

SW, JPT, TTW, LW, JJF, and HYC initiated the study and carried out the fieldwork and species determination. SW, JPT, and LHS carried out the statistical analysis, prepared the diagrams, and wrote the manuscript. YY and HJL revised the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interests. The study did not involve work with humans. All authors have approved the manuscript and agree to its submission.

Supplementary material

27_2019_628_MOESM1_ESM.docx (817 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 816 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Center of Hydrobiology, Department of EcologyJinan UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Research Center of Tropical and Subtropical Aquatic Ecological Engineering, Ministry of Education EngineeringJinan UniversityGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Department of Life Sciences and Innovation and Development Center of Sustainable AgricultureNational Chung Hsing UniversityTaichungTaiwan
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory of Organic Geochemistry, Guangzhou Institute of GeochemistryChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouChina

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