Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 73, Issue 4, pp 367–378 | Cite as

Ontogenetic, seasonal, and spatial variation in the diet of Heterotis niloticus (Osteoglossiformes: Osteoglossidae) in the Sô River and Lake Hlan, Benin, West Africa

  • Alphonse Adite
  • Kirk O. WinemillerEmail author
  • Emile D. Fiogbe


The African bonytongue, Heterotis niloticus (Osteoglossidae), is an important fisheries and aquaculture species in West Africa. This species has frequently been characterized either as an omnivore, insectivore or detritivore, the latter, in part, because of its benthic feeding habitats and possession of a gizzard (thick-walled pyloric stomach). We examined diets of two populations of H. niloticus in the Sô River in southern Benin. A population from the river channel and seasonally flooded marginal plains was dominated by juvenile and subadult size classes. Adults size classes were common in a second population from Lake Hlan, a natural lake in the river floodplain located upstream from the channel study region. Heterotis of all sizes consumed a variety of food resources, ranging from aquatic invertebrates to small seeds. Aquatic invertebrates composed a large proportion of the diets of juveniles, and adults consumed a mixture of aquatic invertebrates, seeds, and detritus. Seasonal dietary variation was observed in both populations, and diet breadth was not significantly different between populations. Aquatic invertebrates remained significant in diets of larger size classes; diets of fish between 100 and 200 mm began to include seeds and detritus, with a marked increase in the volumetric proportion of detritus in diets of fish between 300 and 400 mm in Lake Hlan and between 500 600 mm in the river. Relative gut length was inversely related to body size, which supports the notion that Heterotis is an omnivore and not a specialized detritivore. The thick-walled gizzard of Heterotis, which generally contained sand, probably aids digestion of seed coats. Because Heterotis consume mostly invertebrates and grass seeds in shallow waters of seasonal aquatic habitats and lakes the river floodplain, foraging success and fishery production should be strongly dependent on the annual flood pulse.


diet breadth dietary overlap fishery flooding omnivore 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alphonse Adite
    • 1
  • Kirk O. Winemiller
    • 2
    Email author
  • Emile D. Fiogbe
    • 1
  1. 1.Unité de Recherches sur les Zones Humides, Département de Zoologie et Génétique, Faculté des Sciences et TechniquesUniversité d’Abomey-CalaviCotonou
  2. 2.Section of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyTexas A&M UniversityUSA

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