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Morphology dependent foraging efficiency in perch: a trade-off for ecological specialization?


  • Richard Svanbäck,

  • Peter Eklöv

R. Svanbäck and P. Eklöv, Dept of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå Univ., SE-901 87, Sweden. Present address: Dept of Limnology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala Univ., Norbyv. 20, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden (


Trade-offs in foraging efficiency leading to divergent natural selection between and within populations exploiting different resources are thought to be a primary cause of trophic polymorphism. In this study we focused on the trade-offs in foraging efficiency and growth in a polymorphic perch population. Specifically, we related habitat-specific growth and diet of perch to perch morphology. In a subsequent laboratory study we experimentally tested the trade-off by testing the efficiency of perch with different morphology feeding on pelagic (Daphnia sp., Chaoborus sp.) and littoral (mayfly larvae) food resources. The feeding performance was tested in different physical environments to see if we could predict growth patterns in the field based on foraging rate and behavior of perch.

In the field study, we found that the perch from the littoral and the pelagic zones differed in both morphology and diet. Within the littoral zone the deeper-bodied individuals grew faster compared to the more streamlined individuals, whereas the opposite pattern was found in the pelagic zone. In the aquarium experiments, perch from the littoral zone had higher capture rates on the pelagic prey types in vegetation trials and on mayfly larvae in both open water and vegetation trials. The pelagic perch had higher capture rates on the pelagic prey types in open water trials. The littoral perch had lower search velocity than the pelagic perch in open water trials whereas the opposite pattern was found in vegetation trials. The attack velocity of the pelagic perch was also higher than that of the littoral perch independent of vegetation structure. Our results suggest that there is a functional trade-off between performance in alternate habitats and general body form in perch. Such trade-offs may promote divergent natural selection and could be the mechanism that give rise to and upholds the pattern in the field.