ONTOGENETIC DIET SHIFTS AND RESOURCE PARTITIONING AMONG PISCIVOROUS FISHES IN THE VENEZUELAN LLANOS
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Resource utilization by nine abundant piscivores from a diverse tropical fish assemblage was examined over the course of a year. All nine species exhibited peak reproduction during the early wet season and a similar sequence of size-dependent shifts from a diet composed primarily of microcrustacea, to aquatic insects, and finally fishes. Three piranha species specialized on fish fins, particularly at subadult size classes (SL 30-80 mm). Gradual dessication of the floodplain during the transition season was associated with fish growth, increased fish density, and decreased aquatic primary productivity and availability of invertebrate prey. Based on 118 resource categories, average pairwise diet overlap was low during all three seasons: wet, transition, and dry. Of 72 species pairings, only one pair of fin-nipping piranhas exhibited high overlap simultaneously on three niche dimensions: food type, food size, and habitat. Adults of two species, a gymnotid knifefish and pimelodid catfish, were largely nocturnal. Patterns of habitat utilization indicate that piranhas may restrict diurnal use of the open-water region by other piscivores. Collective diet overlap of individual piscivore species with the other eight feeding guild members and collective overlaps with the entire fish community each revealed two basic seasonal trends. Four species that showed an early switch to piscivory also showed a high degree of diet separation with both the guild and community at large on a year-round basis. The five remaining species showed lowest collective diet overlaps during the transition season when availability of invertebrates was reduced and fish densities were maximal. Whereas predation may play a role in habitat separation, diffuse competition for food resources during the approximately four-month transition season probably is the principal factor yielding patterns of diet specialization. 1989 Kluwer Academic Publishers.