Trophic Relationships of Three Sunfishes (Lepomis spp.) in an Estuarine Bayou

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Marine Science


We examined ontogenetic, interspecific, and seasonal trophic patterns among sympatric sunfish species, redspotted sunfish, Lepomis miniatus; redear sunfish; Lepomis microlophus; and bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus, in an estuarine bayou. In particular we studied these feeding patterns in relation to relative abundances of prey from different benthic feeding habitats. All three sunfishes showed ontogenetic divergence in their trophic niches, reflecting different ecomorphological specializations. Small fishes depended on zooplankton, whereas larger fishes of all three species shifted their diets to benthic macrofauna. A potential for trophic resource partitioning was reflected by dietary differences among the three sunfish species. One implied mechanism for resource partitioning was feeding habitat, as redear sunfish frequently used sediment-associated prey, while bluegill showed greater use of water-column-associated prey, and redspotted sunfish often used SAV-associated prey. However, all three sunfishes apparently used each feeding habitat to some degree; and, trophic differences were more clearly based on prey type than on feeding habitat. Redear sunfish, which can crush hard-shelled prey exhibited the most distinctive diet. An apparent seasonal shift in feeding habitat occurred in autumn/winter, as indicated by increased overlap between diets and SAV. This shift was facilitated by changes in the relative abundances of several common prey types between benthic habitats. The relative abundance and use of freshwater and estuarine-derived prey also varied seasonally, suggesting a possible trophic benefit of consistent prey availability in the estuarine bayou.

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