Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 201, Issue 4, pp 341–356 | Cite as

The effect of light intensity on prey detection behavior in two Lake Malawi cichlids, Aulonocara stuartgranti and Tramitichromis sp.

  • Margot A. B. SchwalbeEmail author
  • Jacqueline F. Webb
Original Paper


Two sand-dwelling cichlids from Lake Malawi (Aulonocara stuartgranti, Tramitichromis sp.) that feed on benthic invertebrates, but have different lateral line phenotypes, use lateral line and/or visual cues to detect prey under light versus dark conditions. The current study examined how ecologically relevant variation in light intensity [0–800 lux (lx)] influences detection of prey (mobile, immobile) in each species by analyzing six behavioral parameters. Both species fed at light intensities ≥1 lx and trends in behavior among light intensities were informative. However, prey type and/or time of day (but not light intensity) predicted all four parameters analyzed with generalized linear mixed models in A. stuartgranti, whereas the interaction of light intensity and time of day predicted three of these parameters in Tramitichromis sp. Data suggest that the critical light intensity is 1–12 lx for both species, that the integration of visual and lateral line input explains differences in detection of mobile and immobile prey and behavioral changes at the transition from 1 to 0 lx in A. stuartgranti, and that Tramitichromis sp. likely uses binocular vision to locate prey. Differences in the sensory biology of species that exploit similar prey will have important implications for the trophic ecology of African cichlid fishes.


Vision Lateral line Detection distance Prey detection Sensory ecology 



Akaike information criterion


Generalized linear mixed model




Photosynthetically active radiation


Standard length


Total length



We thank Drs. Karen Carleton (University of Maryland) for her expertise in cichlid vision, Stephanie Guildford (University of Minnesota Duluth) for her expertise on light levels in Lake Malawi, and Graham Forrester (University of Rhode Island) and Rebeca Rosengaus (Northeastern University) for statistical expertise. We also thank Edward Baker (Facilities Manager, RI NSF EPSCoR Marine Life Science Facility), Emily Becker, Brandon Fuller, Christopher Holland, Callie Veelenturf, Rebecca Scott, and Benjamin Sevey for assistance with fish husbandry, Dr. Christopher Kenaley (Harvard University) for doing the µCT scans, and Benjamin Sevey for generating the 3D images in Fig. 1. This work was carried out under an approved University of Rhode Island IACUC protocol (#AN08-11-005). This research was assisted by funds provided by NSF EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement EPS-0554548 and EPS-100405, the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (University of Rhode Island) and was supported by NSF grant IOS 0843307 to JFW.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA

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