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Simulation experiments using the inSTREAM individual‐based brown trout Salmo trutta population model explored the role of individual adaptive behaviour in food limitation, as an example of how behaviour can affect managers' understanding of conservation problems. The model
includes many natural complexities in habitat (spatial and temporal variation in characteristics such as depth and velocity, temperature, hiding and feeding cover, drift‐food supply and predation risk), fish physiology (especially, how food intake and growth vary with hydrodynamics,
cover, fish size and temperature) and behaviour. When drift‐food concentration was increased over a wide range in 7 year simulations, the simulated population was always food limited. In fact, as food supply increased, the population increased at an increasing rate and consumed a higher
percentage of the food supply, apparently because higher food concentrations make more stream area energetically profitable for drift feeders. The behaviour most responsible for this response was activity selection: when food was abundant, fish chose to feed less frequently and more nocturnally,
thereby reducing predation mortality so more fish survived longer. These results indicate that the traditional concept of food limitation, that food availability stops limiting population size when it exceeds some threshold level, may not be useful and can be misleading. Results also strongly
contradict the concept that a salmonid population is not food limited if the total food supply is greater than the population's consumption. Explicit consideration of adaptive behaviour produced a novel but believable understanding of food effects on salmonid populations. Published 2011. This
article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.