Mechanisms of Selectivity in a Nocturnal Fish: A Lack of Active Prey Choice

Oecologia. 2005 Dec;146(2):329-36. doi: 10.1007/s00442-005-0205-2. Epub 2005 Oct 28.


Fish that feed on individual zooplankton usually exhibit strong selectivity for large prey. Such selectivity can result from the predator's active choice of larger prey or from differential encounter rate due to lower detectability of small prey, or both. In diurnal fishes, selectivity is thought to be determined mostly by active choice. In spite of a lack of direct observations, active choice is also considered the prevailing mechanism of prey selectivity in nocturnal fishes. Our objective was to resolve this mechanism in the highly selective, nocturnal zooplanktivorous fish Apogon annularis. Laboratory experiments indicated that the fish's encounter rate with small prey was lower than that with large prey and that its selectivity became stronger with decreasing light intensity. Feeding efficiency, defined as the ratio between feeding and encounter rates, ranged 41-89% and was positively correlated with prey size. When feeding on a mixture of prey sizes, the fish fed on each size group at a rate similar to that of its feeding on the respective size alone, indicating that selectivity in A. annularis was due to size-dependent encounter rate and differential feeding efficiency. A low visual acuity in A. annularis, as inferred from its inability to detect small prey (<0.9 mm in length), together with the low abundance of large zooplankton in situ, can explain the dominance of differential encounter over active choice in this nocturnal coral-reef fish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size
  • Darkness*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / radiation effects
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior / radiation effects
  • Zooplankton