Does a bigger mouth make you fatter? Linking intraspecific gape variability to body condition of a tropical predatory fish Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • In gape-limited predators, gape size restricts the maximum prey size a predator is capable to ingest. However, studies investigating the energetic consequences of this relationship remain scarce. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that gape-size variability influences individual body condition (a common proxy for fitness) in one of the largest freshwater teleost predators, the barramundi. We found that individual barramundi with larger gapes relative to body size had higher body condition values compared to conspecifics with smaller gapes. Body condition was highest soon after the wet season, a period of high feeding activity on productive inundated floodplains, and body condition decreased as the dry season progressed when fish were restricted to dry season remnant habitats. The increased condition obtained during the wet season apparently offsets weight loss through the dry season, as individuals with large gapes were still in better condition than fish with small gapes in the late-dry season. Elucidation of the links between intraspecific variability in traits and performance is a critical challenge in functional ecology. This study emphasizes that even small intraspecific variability in morphological trait values can potentially affect individual fitness within a species' distribution.

publication date

  • 2019