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The Journal of Experimental Biology


Suction feeding fish differ in their capacity to generate subambient pressure while feeding, and these differences appear to relate to morphological variation. We developed a morphological model of force transmission in the fish head and parameterized it with measurements from individual fish. The model was applied to 45 individuals from five species of centrarchid fishes: Lepomis macrochirus, Lepomis punctatus, Lepomis microlophus, Micropterus salmoides and Pomoxis nigromaculatus. Measurements of epaxial cross-sectional area, epaxial moment arm, buccal area and buccal area moment arm were combined to estimate pressure generation capacity for individual fish. This estimation was correlated with pressure measured in fish feeding on elusive prey to test the model’s ability to predict pressure generation from morphology. The model explained differences in pressure generation found among individuals (P<0.001, r2=0.71) and produced a realistic estimate of normalized muscle stress during suction feeding (68.5±6.7·kPa). Fish with smaller mouths, larger epaxial cross-sectional area and longer epaxial moments, such as L. macrochirus (bluegill sunfish), generated lower pressures than fish with larger mouths, smaller cross-sectional area and shorter moments, such as M. salmoides (largemouth bass). These results reveal a direct trade-off between morphological requirements of feeding on larger prey (larger mouth size relative to body depth) and the ability to generate subambient pressure while suction feeding on elusive prey.

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