We test the hypothesis that size distribution of a Daphnia population reflects the vulnerability of each size category (instar) to predation by planktivorous fish. We hypothesize that due to the different reaction distances from which separate prey categories can be seen by a foraging fish, each category is preyed upon until its density is reduced and its size-specific apparent density level (number of prey within a hemisphere of radius equal to the reaction distance) or encounter rate (number of prey encountered per time within a tube with a cross section of radius equal to the reaction distance) become equal to those of other size categories. An experiment was performed with populations of Daphnia hyalina and D. pulicaria grown at two Scenedesmus + Chlamydomonas food levels (0.2 and 0.05 mg C per liter) in outdoor mesocosms (1000 l tanks) with predation by invertebrates (phantom midge) prevented by mosquito netting. Once the populations had become established, roach were added to the tanks at dusk each day and allowed to feed for 3 h, while control tanks were kept fish-free. After 20–60 days, while D. pulicaria was at low density level, the densities of D. hyalina in fish tanks were high enough to see that the age structure and size distribution matched those from simulations with the age-structured population model based on size-specific encounter rate. This match, however, remained only up to the point of first reproduction when—in contrast to the size/age distribution predicted by the model—the percentage share of adult instars in the total population decreased rapidly with age. This deviation from the predicted densities of adult instars suggests that neither encounter rates nor apparent densities derived from instar-specific reaction distances are sufficient to explain the instar-specific impact of a visual predator on planktonic prey. This implies that a foraging fish may temporarily change its feeding mode from the typical low-speed harvesting of small but abundant prey from within its visual field volume, to high-speed hunting for more scarce but larger ovigerous females when their abundance allows higher net energy gain. Shifting from one feeding mode to the other may be responsible for damping population density oscillations in Daphnia.
Age structure Aggregating Density oscillations Encounter rates Predation Predators-harvesters Predators-hunters Reaction distance Size selectivity