Trophic interrelationships between the exotic Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus and indigenous tilapiine cichlids in a subtropical African river system (Limpopo River, South Africa)

16 August 2012

The stable isotope ratio and seasonal changes in diet of two indigenous (Oreochromis mossambicus, Tilapia rendalli) and one exotic (Oreochromis niloticus) tilapiine cichlids in the subtropical Limpopo River, South Africa were investigated to determine patterns of resource partitioning. Stomach contents of O. niloticus and O. mossambicus indicated high dietary overlap across size class, habitat and season, with both species primarily feeding on vegetative detritus. However, stable isotope analysis revealed that the two Oreochromis species had different stable isotope ratios derived from different food sources. The relatively δ13C-depleted O. niloticus indicates a phytoplanktonbased diet, while the δ13C-enriched O. mossambicus indicates a macrophagous diet dominated by vegetative detritus and periphyton. The high similarity in stomach contents and the interspecific differences in isotopic composition reveal fine-scale patterns of food resource partitioning that could be achieved through selective feeding. Tilapia rendalli was largely macrophagous and fed mainly on aquatic macrophytes and had a low dietary overlap with both O. niloticus and O. mossambicus. In the Limpopo River, detritus and algae are probably the most abundant food resources and the causal factors responsible for the observed patterns of resource partitioning among the tilapiines are usually difficult to ascertain. Fish may be able to perceive food resources in terms of the dynamics that determine their availability. Detailed studies of variation in food resource availability and fish habitat use within the system are needed to evaluate this hypothesis.