We compared the diets among members of the diverse darter community of French Creek, Pennsylvania, in relation to seasonal prey availability, feeding ontogeny, and sex. Prey taxa and size attributes were characterized for nine syntopic darter species; taxon, size, and availability of macroinvertebrate prey were also analyzed from Surber samples. In general, darters fed opportunistically on immature insects; few taxa were consumed in greater proportions than they were found in the environment. Some variation in diet composition was expressed, however, among different life stages and species. Juvenile darters consumed smaller prey and more chironomids than did adults. Etheostoma blennioides and E. zonale consumed the fewest taxa (2-3), whereas E. maculatum, E. variatum, and Percina evides bad the most diverse diets (7-10 taxa). Etheostoma maculatum, E. flabellare, E. variatum, and P. evides consumed larger prey (1-13 mm in standard length), whereas E. blennioides, E. caeruleum, E. camurum, E. tippecanoe, and E. zonale rarely consumed prey longer than 6 mm. Percina evides fed on larger prey, fewer chironomids, and more fish eggs than Etheostoma species. Females consumed more prey than males and overlapped less in diet composition with males during the spawning season than afterwards. Fish diets did not seem related to habitat use. Greater trophic partitioning was observed in April, when prey resources were scarce, than in July, when prey were abundant. Darter species fed opportunistically when prey were dense, whereas they partitioned food resources mainly through the prey size dimension when prey were less abundant. The divergence of darter diets during a period of low food availability may be attributed to interspecific competition. Alternatively, the greater abundance of large prey in April may have facilitated better prey size selectivity, resulting in less overlap among darter species.
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Food resource partitioning by nine sympatric darter species