Prey-specific anti-predatory behaviour under different degrees of structural complexity determines foraging success of predators. The behaviour of piscivorous fish (largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides and northern pike, Esox lucius) and their prey (bluegills, Lepomis macrochirus, and fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas) were quantified in 60-min experiments in laboratory pools (2 multiplied by 4 m in diameter, 0 multiplied by 5 m deep) with artificial vegetation at densities of 0, 50, 250, and 1000 stems/m2. Largemouth bass switched predatory tactics from searching to ambushing as plant density increased whereas northern pike always used ambushing. At high plant density, both predators captured minnows, but not bluegills. Bluegills modified their behaviour more than minnows in response to predators, thereby avoiding predation at high plant densities. Structural complexity alone did not always provide refuge for prey; prey must use the structure to avoid predators. Predators may seek vegetated areas if appropriate, vulnerable prey are present.
Additional publication details
Behavioural interaction between fish predators and their prey: effects of plant density