Variation in prey selection and foraging success associated with early-life ontogeny and habitat use of American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)

William D. Hintz, Nicolle K. MacVey, Allison M. Asher, Anthony P. Porreca, James E. Garvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many fishes are planktivorous during early life and switch to piscivory or consume larger food items as ontogeny progresses. In contrast, paddlefish start as particulate feeders and later become filter feeders. Few studies have identified food items essential for paddlefish growth, survival and recruitment surrounding this ontogenetic diet shift. The objectives of this study were to investigate (i) prey types consumed by paddlefish, (ii) variability in prey selection surrounding an ontogenetic diet shift and (iii) whether habitat affected paddlefish prey selection or foraging success. We analysed gut contents of 189 wild age-0 paddlefish from the middle Mississippi River (MMR) and also conducted a laboratory experiment to address these objectives. We found that paddlefish primarily foraged on benthic macroinvertebrates in the MMR, which differed from previous studies in lentic systems, suggesting young paddlefish prey selection may be labile depending on habitat (i.e., lotic versus lentic). Dominant prey of wild-caught and experimental age-0 paddlefish were caddisfly larvae (Trichoptera), followed by hemipterans and amphipods. We found little evidence that habitat attributes affected foraging success, but the most common prey items consumed were associated with wing dike habitat and the upstream and downstream tips of alluvial islands. Our experimental study revealed that if provided a mixture of organisms, age-0 paddlefish will primarily consume macroinvertebrates while age-1 paddlefish will mainly filter zooplankton. Overall results suggest young paddlefish prey selection can be highly variable, but also heavily reliant on a narrow group of prey resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-189
Number of pages9
JournalEcology of Freshwater Fish
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Mississippi River
  • diet
  • macroinvertebrates
  • ontogenetic shift
  • prey choice
  • zooplankton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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