Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Ontogenetic dietary shifts of fishes in an Australian floodplain river

A. J. King
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3168, c/- Murray–Darling Freshwater Research Centre, PO Box 921, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia.

B Present address: Freshwater Ecology section, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Sustainability and Environment, PO Box 137, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia.

C Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 56(2) 215-225
Submitted: 11 June 2004  Accepted: 23 February 2005   Published: 12 April 2005


The early life of fishes is marked by rapid development when individuals are thought to optimise their success through ontogeny by altering ecological niches and resources. Since most fish larvae are thought to require small prey items at first feeding, competition for potentially limiting food resources may occur between species creating a juvenile bottleneck, which may, in turn, influence future recruitment strength. The diets of the early life stages of most Australian freshwater fish are poorly known. The present study investigated the ontogenetic dietary patterns of six species of fish in an Australian floodplain river. A large proportion of first-feeding larvae of three species (Murray cod, Australian smelt and carp) were able to feed externally while still retaining their yolk sac. All species demonstrated major dietary shifts from newly hatched larvae through development into juvenile stages and adulthood. Only a few minor overlaps in diet were found, with greater overlaps commonly occurring between sequential stages of the same species, reflecting subtle ontogenetic changes. Despite two co-occurrences of an introduced and a native species using the same rearing habitat as larvae, dietary preferences did not significantly overlap, suggesting that a recruitment bottleneck caused by competition for food resources is unlikely for these species.

Extra keywords: critical period, dietary overlap, juvenile bottlenecks, larvae.


David Crook, Bernard Cockayne, Anthony Conallin and Luciano Serafini provided invaluable volunteer field assistance. I am also particularly grateful to Paul Humphries, Sam Lake and David Crook for helpful comments on the manuscript and to Russell Shiel and John Hawking for helping with identifications. The present study was conducted while funded by a Land and Water Australia postgraduate scholarship.


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