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Widespread omnivory and low temporal and spatial variation in the diet of fishes in a hydrologically variable northern Australian river

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This article examines the trophic ecology of freshwater fishes (22 species in 15 families) in a wet and dry tropical Australian river of high intra-annual and interannual hydrological variability. Seven major trophic groups were identified by cluster analysis; however, four food items (filamentous algae, chironomid larvae, Trichoptera larvae and Ephemeroptera nymphs) comprised almost half of the average diet of all species. The influence of species, fish size, spatial effects and temporal effects on food use was investigated using redundancy analysis. Size, time and space accounted for little of the perceived variation. Ontogenetic changes in diet were minor and limited to a few large species. Spatial variation in trophic composition of the fish assemblages reflected the effects of the Burdekin Falls and dam, a major geographic barrier, on species distributions. Little spatial variation in diet was detected after accounting for this biogeographical effect. Temporal variations in flow, although marked, had little effect on variations in fish diet composition due to the low temporal diversity of food resources in physically monotonous sand and gravel channels. Species identity accounted for<50% of the observed variation in food choice; omnivory and generalism were pronounced. The aquatic food web of the Burdekin River appears simple, supported largely by autochthonous production (filamentous and benthic microalgae, and to some extent, aquatic macrophytes). Allochthonous food resources appear to be unimportant. The generalist feeding strategies, widespread omnivory and absence of pronounced trophic segregation reported here for Burdekin River fishes may be common to variable and intermittent rivers of subtropical and tropical northern Australia with similar fish communities and may be a general feature of rivers of low habitat diversity and characterized by flow regimes that vary greatly both within and between years.

Keywords: Burdekin River; diet; food web; variable hydrology; wet and dry tropics

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: 1: Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia 2: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK), Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia 3: Water Management, Department of Primary Industries and Water, Newtown, Tasmania 7008, Australia

Publication date: 2010-08-01

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