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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2008

Food abundance affects both morphology and behaviour of juvenile perch

Borcherding, J.; Magnhagen, C.


Behaviour and morphology were both shown to differ between 1+ perch from two lakes that in earlier studies showed differences in size-specific predation risk. As the level of nourishment is known to affect behaviour and morphology, we fed perch of the two lakes in tanks for 40 days with two food levels, to study whether observed differences remain stable with changes in food availability. The perch fed in excess grew significantly, while the perch at the low food conditions lost weight, clearly indicating undernourishment. In aquarium experiments, the starved perch from both lakes were much bolder in the trade-off between foraging and predator avoidance than their well-fed conspecifics. In addition, the shape of perch differed significantly between feeding treatments. At low food levels perch got a more slender body, while at high food levels they developed a deeper body and a relatively smaller head. Independent of feeding level, the comparison between the two lakes revealed a clearly deeper body and a larger head area for one population, a shape difference that remained stable after the feeding period. The results give evidence that the level of nourishment is an important factor that quickly alters risk-taking behaviour. In body morphology, however, more stable shape characteristics must be distinguished from more flexible ones. Consequently, the level of nourishment is a potential factor that may quickly hide other proximate cues and must be considered attentively in studies, in which shape changes and behaviour are related to environmental factors like diet, predation pressure or habitat diversity.


Perca fluviatilis; population differences; predation risk; nourishment; boldness

Published in

Ecology of Freshwater Fish
2008, Volume: 17, number: 2, pages: 207-218