Differences in reaction distance to prey fish by piscivorous salmonids can alter predator–prey interactions under different visual conditions. We compared reaction distances of three piscivorous salmonids commonly found in western lakes: cutthroat trout, Oncorhynchus clarki utah, rainbow trout, O. mykiss, and the nonnative lake char, Salvelinus namaycush. Reaction distances to salmonid prey were measured as functions of light and turbidity in a controlled laboratory setting. In addition, predation rates and swimming speeds of lake char preying on juvenile cutthroat trout were measured experimentally under a range of light levels. Reaction distances for cutthroat trout and rainbow trout increased rapidly as light levels increased, reaching relatively constant reaction distances at higher light levels. Reaction distances for lake char were similar to cutthroat trout and rainbow trout at the lower light levels; however, lake char reaction distances continued to increase with increasing light intensity to asymptote at distances 65% higher than those for both cutthroat and rainbow trout. Predation rates by lake char were low for the darkest light levels, increased rapidly under low light levels (0.50–0.75 lx), and then declined to an intermediate rate at all higher light levels. Swimming speeds by lake char also increased rapidly from extremely low light conditions to a peak and declined to an intermediate level at light levels above 1.00 lx. These results suggest that, above the saturation intensity threshold, piscivorous lake char react to fish prey at greater distances than do cutthroat trout and rainbow trout. These differences may help explain the decline of native trout following the introductions of nonnative lake char in lakes and reservoirs of western North America.
Additional publication details
Comparing visual prey detection among species of piscivorous salmonids: effects of light and low turbidities