CZAAWE Resource Article

Effect of food abundance on aggressiveness and territory size of juvenile rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Animal Behaviour
How food abundance affects (1) whether or not individuals defend territories and (2) what size of territory is defended are crucial to understanding the role that territoriality plays in regulating the population size of stream-dwelling salmonids. The threshold model of feeding territoriality predicts that territorial defence will be most intense at intermediate levels of food abundance, whereas optimal territory-size models predict that territory size will decrease with increasing food abundance. While the latter prediction has been supported by several studies of stream salmonids, too few levels of food abundance were typically used to describe the exact relationship between territory size and food abundance. Hence, to quantify the relation between the intensity of defence, territory size and food abundance, we manipulated food abundance over a broad range of values (0.62, 1.25, 2.5, 5, 10 and 20% of the fish wet body weight in dry food per day) in artificial stream channels (1.92 × 0.77 m), while monitoring the territorial behaviour of juvenile rainbow trout. As predicted by the threshold model of feeding territoriality, the frequency of territorial aggression was highest at intermediate levels of food abundance, but fish never ceased defending territories entirely, particularly at food densities likely found in the wild. Also as predicted, the aggressive radius of rainbow trout decreased significantly, but only by 30% over a 32-fold increase in food abundance, equivalent to a 51% decrease in territory size. Our results suggest that territory size is relatively insensitive to changes in food abundance and may have a regulatory effect on population density.