A Device to Study the Behavioral Responses of Zooplankton to Food Quality and Quantity
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In order to explore the behavioral mechanisms underlying aggregation of foragers on local resource patches, it is necessary to manipulate the location, quality and quantity of food patches. This requires careful control over the conditions in the foraging arena, which may be a challenging task in the case of aquatic resource-consumer systems, like that of freshwater zooplankton feeding on suspended algal cells. We present an experimental tool designed to aid behavioral ecologists in exploring the consequences of resource characteristics for zooplankton aggregation behavior and movement decisions under conditions where the boundaries and characteristics (quantity and quality) of food patches can be standardized. The aggregation behavior of Daphnia magna and D. galeata x hyalina was tested in relation to i) the presence or absence of food or ii) food quality, where algae of high or low nutrient (phosphorus) content were offered in distinct patches. Individuals of both Daphnia species chose tubes containing food patches and D. galeata x hyalina also showed a preference towards food patches of high nutrient content. We discuss how the described equipment complements other behavioral approaches providing a useful tool to understand animal foraging decisions in environments with heterogeneous resource distributions.
KeywordsForaging behavior behavioral choice food preference Daphnia flow-through vessel
The authors are grateful for the constructive comments of two anonymous reviewers. This is Publication 5371 of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW).
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