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Keywords:

  • brown trout;
  • functional response;
  • terrestrial invertebrates;
  • size-dependency

Gustafsson P, Bergman E, Greenberg LA. Functional response and size-dependent foraging on aquatic and terrestrial prey by brown trout (Salmo trutta L.).Ecology of Freshwater Fish 2010: 19: 170–177. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S

Abstract –  Terrestrial invertebrate subsidies are believed to be important energy sources for drift-feeding salmonids. Despite this, size-specific use of and efficiency in procuring this resource have not been studied to any great extent. Therefore, we measured the functional responses of three size classes of wild brown trout Salmo trutta (0+, 1+ and ≥2+) when fed either benthic- (Gammarus sp.) or surface-drifting prey (Musca domestica) in laboratory experiments. To test for size-specific prey preferences, both benthic and surface prey were presented simultaneously by presenting the fish with a constant density of benthic prey and a variable density of surface prey. The results showed that the functional response of 0+ trout differed significantly from the larger size classes, with 0+ fish having the lowest capture rates. Capture rates did not differ significantly between prey types. In experiments when both prey items were presented simultaneously, capture rate differed significantly between size classes, with larger trout having higher capture rates than smaller trout. However, capture rates within each size class did not change with prey density or prey composition. The two-prey experiments also showed that 1+ trout ate significantly more surface-drifting prey than 0+ trout. In contrast, there was no difference between 0+ and ≥2+ trout. Analyses of the vertical position of the fish in the water column corroborated size-specific foraging results: larger trout remained in the upper part of the water column between attacks on surface prey more often than smaller trout, which tended to seek refuge at the bottom between attacks. These size-specific differences in foraging and vertical position suggest that larger trout may be able to use surface-drifting prey to a greater extent than smaller conspecifics.