Water Temperature and Prey Size Effects on the Rate of Digestion of Larval and Early Juvenile Fish

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Transactions of the American Fisheries Society





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While predation is widely accepted as a major cause of mortality for fish larvae, its extent is largely unknown because few studies have been able to identify larvae in the stomach contents of predatory fish. Rapid digestion rates probably explain why fish larvae are rarely found in stomach contents, yet quantification of digestion rates of fish larvae is generally lacking, especially in freshwater systems. Using a series of laboratory experiments, we quantified the effects of temperature and larval fish (prey) size on digestion rate. We also evaluated whether species type (both predator and prey) influences digestion rate and described the morphological breakdown of fish larvae during digestion. Bluegills Lepomis macrochirus and yellow perch Perca flavescens were force-fed the larvae of guppies Poecilia spp., rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss, and yellow perch at a range of temperatures (7-22 degrees C), and digestion rates were measured using prey mass before and after digestion (i.e., proportional loss of prey mass after ingestion). As expected, digestion rates increased with water temperature and decreased with prey body mass but were unaffected by species of predator. A confounding effect of prey type (fresh versus frozen) prevented a thorough evaluation of prey species, although yellow perch and rainbow trout (both previously flash-frozen) were digested at similar rates. The complete breakdown of larvae in predator stomachs and the loss of morphological characters needed to identify larvae occurred rapidly, confirming the challenges of evaluating predation mortality based on stomach contents of field-collected predators. Ultimately, our findings can be used to help researchers quantify the likelihood of detecting larval fish in the stomachs of field-caught predators when using conventional stomach content analyses.




This is an accepted manuscript version of an article whose version of record was published in:Transactions of the American Fisheries Society: http://dx.doi.org/10.1577/T09-212.1