High rate of prey consumption in a small predatory fish on coral reefs
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Small piscivores are regarded as important regulators of the composition of coral reef fish communities, but few studies have investigated their predatory ecology or impact on assemblages of juvenile fishes. This study investigated the foraging ecology of a common coral reef predator, the dottyback Pseudochromis fuscus, using underwater focal animal observations. Observations were conducted at two times of year: the summer, when recruit fishes were an available food item and winter, when remaining juveniles had outgrown vulnerability to P. fuscus. During the summer, P. fuscus directed 76% of its strikes at invertebrates and 24% at recruiting juvenile fishes. When striking at fishes, P. fuscus exhibited two distinct feeding modes: an ambush (26% successful) and a pursuit mode (5% successful). Predator activity in the field peaked at midday, averaging 2.5 captures h−1 of juvenile fishes. Monitoring of activity and foraging in the laboratory over 24-h periods found that P. fuscus was a diurnal predator and was active for 13 h d−1 during the summer. The number of hours during which foraging was recorded differed greatly among individuals (n = 10), ranging from 4 to 13 h. The number of predatory strikes did not increase with standard length, but the success rate and consumption rate of juvenile fishes did increase with size. Estimated hourly mortality on juvenile fish ranged from 0.49 fish h−1 in small P. fuscus individuals (30–39 mm standard length, SL; equating to 6.3 per 13 h day) to 2.4 fish h−1 in large P. fuscus individuals (55–65 mm SL; 30.6 per 13 h day). During the winter, P. fuscus struck at invertebrates with a similar rate to the summer period. These observations of the predatory ecology of P. fuscus support the hypothesis that in coral reef systems, small piscivores, because of their high metabolism and activity, are probably important regulators of coral reef fish community composition.
KeywordsPredation Coral reef fishes Mesopredator Recruitment Piscivore Digestion rate
We thank Susannah Leahy for field assistance and the staff at the Lizard Island Research Station for logistic support. Hwan-Jin Yoon provided some statistical advice, and Gerald Feeney, Belle Lönnstedt and Coco Larcom commented on drafts of the manuscript. We also thank Darren Johnson and Bryce Beukers-Stewart for their excellent comments on the initial version of the manuscript. Research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and an Australian Research Council Discovery grant. Research was conducted under permits from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and in accordance with the JCU Animal Ethics guidelines.
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