Evol Ecol Res 11: 935-948 (2009)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Compensatory behaviour in response to sulphide-induced hypoxia affects time budgets, feeding efficiency, and predation risk

Michael Tobler1, Ruediger W. Riesch2, Courtney M. Tobler3 and Martin Plath4

1Department of Biology and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA,  2Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA,  3Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA and  4Department of Ecology and Evolution, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Correspondence: M. Tobler, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, 2258 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, USA.
e-mail: michi.tobler@gmail.com


Background: In habitats containing toxic hydrogen sulphide, fish breathe at the water’s surface to stay alive. This behaviour is called aquatic surface respiration.

Questions: What effects does this compensatory behaviour have? Does it constrain individuals’ time budgets? Does it have a negative effect on foraging? Does it increase susceptibility to predators?

Organisms and locations: Atlantic mollies (Poecilia mexicana: Poeciliidae, Teleostei) and sulphur mollies (P. sulphuraria) inhabiting sulphidic and non-sulphidic habitats in Tabasco (Mexico).

Methods: We observed time budgets of fish in sulphidic and non-sulphidic habitats. We measured the amount of food eaten by fish in the various habitats. We exposed fish to a predator (giant water-bug, Belostoma sp.: Belostomatidae, Hemiptera) in mesocosms placed in sulphidic and non-sulphidic habitats.

Results: There was an inverse correlation between time spent performing aquatic surface respiration and time dedicated to foraging. Furthermore, fish in non-sulphidic habitats had more food in their guts than conspecifics from sulphidic habitats. Our predation experiments showed no overall difference in capture rates between sulphidic and non-sulphidic sites; however, males were disproportionately preyed upon.

Keywords: aquatic surface respiration, behavioural trade-off, Belostoma, cavefish, energy limitation, hydrogen sulphide, Poecilia, Poeciliidae.

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