Food ration and condition affect early survival of the coral reef damselfish, Stegastes partitus
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The supply of larvae is a major determinant of population and community structure in coral reef fishes. However, spatial and temporal variation in condition (i.e. quality) of potential recruits, as well as their density (i.e. quantity), may influence survival and growth of juveniles. We conducted an experiment to test whether recent feeding history could affect growth, condition and post-recruitment survival in a Caribbean damselfish, Stegastes partitus. Fish were collected soon after settlement, and fed either low or high rations in aquaria for 7 days. Fish fed the high ration grew faster in aquaria and were in a better condition (higher total lipids and Fulton’s condition factor) at the end of the feeding period. Subsequently, we released 50 fish in 25 pairs (one fish subjected to low rations, the other to high rations) on a Bahamian coral reef and monitored survival for 10 days. Survivorship of high-ration fish was double that of low-ration fish (80 vs 40% over 10 days). However, low-ration fish that survived 10 days were of similar condition and grew at similar rates to high-ration fish, suggesting that short-term ration differences may not persist in surviving fish. Laboratory experiments showed that low-ration fish were taken by piscivorous fishes before high-ration fish, indicating that differential predation may account for survival differences. This study highlights the potential of feeding history and condition to affect the relationship between patterns of larval arrival at reefs, and subsequent juvenile and adult population densities.
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