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Insectivore to frugivore: ontogenetic changes in gut morphology and digestive enzyme activity in the characid fish Brycon guatemalensis from Costa Rican rain forest streams

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Brycon guatemalensis, a Neotropical characid fish, consumes an entirely terrestrial diet, shifting from eating insects as juveniles to fruits and leaves as adults. Juvenile and larger‐sized fish collected in the Rio Puerto Viejo at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica were studied to test the hypotheses that, with ontogeny, (1) relative gut length increases, (2) pyloric caeca arrangement and number remain unchanged and (3) pepsin, trypsin and lipase activities decrease, while α‐amylase activity increases. These hypotheses were mainly supported in that larger fish had longer guts, unchanged pyloric caeca arrangement but fewer caeca, and, at both environmental and standard temperatures for the enzyme assays, lower pepsin and trypsin activities but higher α‐amylase activities than the juveniles. Only lipase, among the digestive enzymes, exhibited the unexpected outcome of either not differing significantly in activity (per g of tissue) between juveniles and larger fish or being significantly higher (per mg of protein) in larger fish. The overall results support the view that B. guatemalensis is specialized morphologically and biochemically to function first as a carnivore and then as a herbivore during its life history.

Keywords: Brycon guatemalensis; gut morphology; lipase; pepsin; trypsin; α‐amylase

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: Department of Biological Science, California State University, Fullerton CA 92 834-6850 U.S.A.

Publication date: April 1, 2004


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