Specialized morphology for a generalist diet: evidence for Liem's Paradox in a cichlid fish


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The stable isotope ratio and seasonal changes in diet of Alluaud's haplo Astatoreochromis alluaudi, a cichlid fish with massive pharyngeal jaws well known for its ability to process hard-bodied prey, are described. The diet of A. alluaudi was quantified in Lake Saka, Uganda, over a period of 30 months. Variation in physico-chemical variables (mean monthly rainfall, water temperature, turbidity and dissolved oxygen), as well as potential competitor density and food abundance, was measured throughout the second half of the study (14 months). Stomach contents and isotope analysis revealed a diet comprised mainly of fishes and insects, with a low contribution of molluscs (0–33%) in any given month. No correlation was detected between diet and either macroinvertebrate abundance or competitor abundance. The running average rainfall was positively related to the percentage of fish consumed per month. Although A. alluaudi exhibits an apparent molluscivorous trophic morphology in Lake Saka, molluscs did not appear to compose a major portion of its diet. Gradients of rainfall seemed to be the most important environmental predictor of diet choice in Lake Saka. These results are discussed with reference to Liem's Paradox that apparently morphologically specialized fishes often function as generalist feeders in the wild.