Investigations of factors affecting feeding success in fish larvae require knowledge of the scales of variability of the feeding process itself and the indices used to assess this variability. In this study, we measured short-term (diel) variability in feeding rates of wild haddock (Melanogrammus aeglifinus) larvae four times per day during a 10-d cruise in the northern North Sea. Feeding activity was evaluated using indices of gut fullness, prey digestive state and biochemical measurements (tryptic enzyme activity). The gut fullness and the enzyme activity indices indicated moderate to high rates of food consumption throughout the cruise. Time series analysis of the three indices showed significant diel variability in all indices and enabled identification of significant lags between food uptake and peak digestive enzyme activity. The typical pattern of food consumption and digestion was characterized by maximal ingestion of prey early in the evening (19:00 hrs) and peak digestive enzyme activity at 01:00 hrs. The time scale over which enzyme activities reacted to prey ingestion was ca. 6 h, and is consistent with expectations from controlled laboratory experiments with other larval fish species. Significant diel variability in tryptic enzyme activity suggests that attempts to relate this measure of feeding success to other variables (e.g. food concentrations) should take care to accommodate natural cycles in feeding activity before making statistical comparisons.
Marine Biology, 1999, Vol 135, Issue 2, p. 361-368