Does feeding behavior facilitate trophic niche partitioning in two sympatric sucker species from the American Southwest?

Matthew W. O'Neill, Alice C. Gibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We examined two sympatric desert fishes, Sonora suckers (Catostomus insignis) and desert suckers (Pantosteus clarkii), and asked, does feeding behavior facilitate trophic niche partitioning? To answer this question, we conducted laboratory-based feeding trials to determine whether morphology alone facilitates the diet separation between the relatively unspecialized, omnivorous Sonora sucker and the more morphologically specialized, algivorous desert sucker or whether behavioral differences accompany morphological specialization. We predicted that (1) algivorous desert suckers would maximize contact between jaws and substrate and produce a large mouth-gape to facilitate scraping attached food-material; (2) omnivorous Sonora suckers would be more effective suction feeders when consuming unattached food items from the benthos; and (3) because they are anatomically specialized for scraping, desert suckers could not alter their feeding behavior when presented with different prey types, whereas relatively unspecialized Sonora suckers could vary behavior with prey type. We found that both species maximized jaw contact when feeding on benthic-attached food, although desert suckers produced a greater gape area. We also found that Sonora suckers were more effective suction feeders when feeding on benthic-unattached prey. Counter to our initial predictions, both species altered key aspects of feeding behavior in response to different prey types/locations. It appears that both sucker species can function as generalist feeders to exploit a variety of prey types within their natural habitat; indeed, this behavioral versatility may allow desert and Sonora suckers to respond to the cyclic enenvironmental changes that are characteristic of the aquatic habitats of the American Southwest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-76
Number of pages12
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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