Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 97, Issue 5, pp 551–574 | Cite as

Successes, failures, and opportunities in the practical application of drift-foraging models

  • Jordan S. Rosenfeld
  • Nicolaas Bouwes
  • C. Eric Wall
  • Sean M. Naman


Accurately measuring productive capacity in streams is challenging, and field methods have generally focused on the limiting role of physical habitat attributes (e.g. channel gradient, depth, velocity, substrate). Because drift-foraging models uniquely integrate the effects of both physical habitat (velocity and depth) and prey abundance (invertebrate drift) on energy intake for drift-feeding fishes, they provide a coherent and transferable framework for modelling individual growth that includes the effects of both physical habitat and biological production. Despite this, drift-foraging models have been slow to realize their potential in an applied context. Practical applications have been hampered by difficulties in predicting growth (rather than habitat choice), and scaling predictions of individual growth to reach scale habitat capacity, which requires modelling the partitioning of resources among individuals and depletion of drift through predation. There has also been a general failure of stream ecologists to adequately characterize spatial and temporal variation in invertebrate drift within and among streams, so that sources of variation in this key component of drift-foraging models remain poorly understood. Validation of predictions of habitat capacity have been patchy or lacking, until recent studies demonstrating strong relationships between drift flux, modeled Net Energy Intake, and fish biomass. Further advances in the practical application of drift-foraging models will require i) a better understanding of the factors that cause variation in drift, better approaches for modelling drift, and more standardized methods for characterizing it; ii) identification of simple diagnostic metrics that correlate strongly with more precise but time-consuming bioenergetic assessments of habitat quality; and iii) a better understanding of how variation in drift-foraging strategies are associated with other suites of co-evolved traits that ecologically differentiate taxa of drift-feeding salmonids.


Drift-foraging Bioenergetics Stream habitat capacity Habitat quality Modelling growth 



The authors would like to thank John Piccolo for organizing this special issue and the drift-foraging symposium on which it is based, and for inviting our participation. We also thank Jim Grant, John Hayes, and John Piccolo for insightful comments that greatly improved the manuscript. We also acknowledge support from NSERC and the B.C. Forest Sciences Program for funding that provided the basis for some of the research presented in this paper, as did grants from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA 2003-010-00 and 2011-006-00).


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Copyright information

© Crown Copyright 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jordan S. Rosenfeld
    • 1
  • Nicolaas Bouwes
    • 2
  • C. Eric Wall
    • 3
  • Sean M. Naman
    • 4
  1. 1.British Columbia Ministry of the EnvironmentUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Eco Logical Research, Inc.ProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Department of Watershed SciencesUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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