Trophic Ecology of Frugivorous Fishes in Floodplain forests of the Colombian Amazon
Correa Valencia, Sandra Bibiana
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Diverse fish species consume fruits and seeds in the Neotropics, in particular in the lowland reaches of large rivers, such as the Amazon, Orinoco, and Parana in South America. Floodplains of the Amazon River and its lowland tributaries are characterized by marked hydrological seasonality and diverse assemblages of frugivorous fishes, including closely related and morphologically similar species of several characiform families. Here, I investigated whether or not these fishes are capable of detecting fluctuations in food availability and if they are, how they adjust their feeding strategies. I tested predictions of optimal foraging, limiting similarity and resource partitioning theories with regard to expansion or compression of niche breadth and reduction in trophic niche overlap among species in relation with fluctuations in the availability of alternative food resources. I monitored fruiting phenology patterns to assess food availability and conducted intensive fishing during the high-, falling-, and low-water seasons in an oligotrophic river and an adjacent oxbow lake in the Colombian Amazon. I combined analysis of stomach contents and stable isotope ratios to evaluate dietary patterns, niche breadth, and niche overlap. Diets of six characiform fish species (Brycon falcatus, B. melanopterus, Myloplus asterias, M. rubripinnis, and M. torquatus) changed in a manner that indicated responses to fluctuations in food availability. Feeding strategies during the peak of the flood pulse were consistent with predictions of optimal foraging theory. During times of high fruit abundance, fish preferentially consumed items to which their phenotype is best adapted, maximizing net energy gain and enhancing fitness. As the flood pulse subsided and the availability of forest food resources was reduced in aquatic habitats, there was not a consistent pattern of diet breadth expansion or compression, even though diet shifts occurred, suggesting interspecific differences in foraging efficiencies. Analyses of diets and isotopic ratios revealed a general pattern of increased dietary segregation as the water level receded. Although there never was complete niche segregation among these fishes, these dietary changes effectively reduced interspecific niche overlap. Implications of these results and contribution of allochthonous food resources to diversity maintenance of floodplain fishes are discussed.