Influence of prey body characteristics and performance on predator selection.
At the time of settlement to the reef environment, coral reef fishes differ in a number of characteristics that may influence their survival during a predatory encounter. This study investigated the selective nature of predation by both a multi-species predator pool, and a single common predator (Pseudochromis fuscus), on the reef fish, Pomacentrus amboinensis. The study focused on the early post-settlement period of P. amboinensis, when mortality, and hence selection, is known to be highest. Correlations between nine different measures of body condition/performance were examined at the time of settlement, in order to elucidate the relationships between different traits. Single-predator (P. fuscus) choice trials were conducted in 57.4-l aquaria with respect to three different prey characteristics [standard length (SL), body weight and burst swimming speed], whilst multi-species trials were conducted on open patch reefs, manipulating prey body weight only. Relationships between the nine measures of condition/performance were generally poor, with the strongest correlations occurring between the morphological measures and within the performance measures. During aquaria trials, P. fuscus was found to be selective with respect to prey SL only, with larger individuals being selected significantly more often. Multi-species predator communities, however, were selective with respect to prey body weight, with heavier individuals being selected significantly more often than their lighter counterparts. Our results suggest that under controlled conditions, body length may be the most important prey characteristic influencing prey survival during predatory encounters with P. fuscus. In such cases, larger prey size may actually be a distinct disadvantage to survival. However, these relationships appear to be more complex under natural conditions, where the expression of prey characteristics, the selectivity fields of a number of different predators, their relative abundance, and the action of external environmental characteristics, may all influence which individuals survive.