The diverse prey spectrum of the Tanganyikan scale-eater Perissodus microlepis (Boulenger, 1898)

Abstract

Feeding upon the scales of other fish—lepidophagy—is a highly specialized foraging strategy in fish. Scale-eating is rare in teleosts, yet has evolved several times in East African cichlids, the most famous case being the Perissodini clade in Lake Tanganyika. Here, we examined the prey spectrum of the scale-eater Perissodus microlepis (Boulenger, 1898) via morphological assessment and targeted sequencing (barcoding) of ingested scales. We found that the size of the ingested scales, but not their number, correlates with the body size of scale-eaters. Sequencing of a segment of the mitochondrial ND2 gene in more than 300 scales revealed that P. microlepis feed upon a broad spectrum of prey species. In total, we detected 39 different prey species, reflecting the cichlid community in the rocky littoral zone of Lake Tanganyika. The most common prey were the algae-eaters Petrochromis polyodon, Pe. ephippium, Eretmodus cyanostictus, Tropheus moorii, and Simochromis diagramma, which make up more than half of the diet. The diversity of scales found within scale-eaters and the overall broad prey spectrum suggest that P. microlepis is an opportunistic feeder. Mouth-handedness and body color hue of the scale-eaters do not seem to have an influence on prey choice.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank our helpers in the field M. Colombo, M. T. Dittmann, A. Indermaur, and M. Roesti; T. Veall for logistic support; L. Makasa and the Department of Fisheries, Republic of Zambia, for research permits; J. Meunier for help with the statistical analyses; R. Isenschmid and A. Schett for assistance with imaging of scales; and three anonymous reviewers and the Guest Editors of this species issue for valuable comments. This study was supported by grants from the European Research Council (ERC, Starting Grant ‘INTERGENADAPT’ and Consolidator Grant ‘CICHLID~X’), the University of Basel, and the Swiss National Science Foundation to W. S.

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Correspondence to Walter Salzburger.

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Guest editors: S. Koblmüller, R. C. Albertson, M. J. Genner, K. M. Sefc & T. Takahashi / Advances in Cichlid Research III: Behavior, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Electronic supplementary material

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Supplementary Table

Supplementary material 1  1. Information about the specimens of Perissodus microlepis examined in this study (including sampling information). (XLSX 73 kb)

Supplementary Table

Supplementary material 2  2. Information about the scales examined in this study. Sample_ID… identifier of an individual scale, Fish_ID… identifier of the specimen of Perissodus microlepis from which the scale was extracted, Species (BLAST)… Assignment of the mtDNA sequence obtained from the scale via BLAST, Species (phylogeny)… Assignment of the mtDNA sequence obtained from the scale based on a phylogenetic analysis, Scale type… Assignment of scales according to morphology into one of 53 scale types, arbitrarily and consecutively named A to AZ. In cases of a discrepancy in the assignment between BLAST and the phylogenetic analyses, we used the assignment identified in bold. (XLSX 19 kb)

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Kovac, R., Boileau, N., Muschick, M. et al. The diverse prey spectrum of the Tanganyikan scale-eater Perissodus microlepis (Boulenger, 1898). Hydrobiologia 832, 85–92 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-018-3714-9

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Keywords

  • Cichlidae
  • Lake Tanganyika
  • Adaptive radiation
  • Barcoding
  • Lepidophagy