Habitat complexity and food item size modify the foraging behaviour of a freshwater fish
The functional response describes the relationship between feeding rate and prey density, and is important ecologically as it describes how foraging behaviour may change in response to food availability. The effects of habitat complexity and food item size were experimentally tested on the foraging parameters and functional responses of the freshwater fish roach Rutilus rutilus. Habitat complexity was varied through the manipulation of substrate and turbidity, and food item size was varied by using fishmeal pellets in two sizes. As water turbidity and substrate complexity increased, the reaction distance and consumption rate (per number) significantly decreased. Increased food item size significantly decreased consumption rates (per number) but had no influence on any other foraging parameter. Analysis of the interactions between substrate complexity, turbidity and food item size revealed food item size had the greatest influence on consumption rate (per number). Turbidity had the least effect on all the foraging parameters tested. Across all experiments, the functional responses were best described by the Type II response, a relatively consistent finding for R. rutilus. These outputs reveal that fish foraging behaviours and functional responses are highly context dependent, varying with environmental parameters and the availability of food resources of different sizes.