Date of Award

Spring 4-27-2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

Department

Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Joel Trexler

Abstract

The adaptive significance of herbivory in nature is not well understood. In order to document the conditions that select for an herbivorous feeding habit, we must first understand how such a diet is maintained, and the consequences of doing so. A few studies have begun to reveal mechanisms of maintaining herbivory (i.e. selective feeding, diet mixing, etc.) and the associated life history responses (i.e. growth, reproduction, etc.) in terrestrial and marine systems; however, studies of this kind are underrepresented in the freshwater literature. In this study, I use the sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna) as a model organism to examine diet selectivity and the effects of an herbivorous diet on growth. To study food selectivity, sailfin mollies were fed either disturbed or intact periphyton mats from one of three localities within the Everglades (Water Conservation Area 3B, the Gap, or Chekika). Mats are structured with palatable algal species (i.e. greens and diatoms) comprising the inner components of the mat, and unpalatable species (i.e. cyanobacteria) comprising the outer edges. Fish gut contents were analyzed for each treatment and periphyton locality. Results suggest that when provided access to the inner components of the mats, fish preferentially eat more palatable algae. In a second experiment, effects of an herbivorous diet were examined using neonate sailfin mollies. Fish were fed either commercial food flakes, commercial algae flakes, or ground periphyton, and growth rate was measured weekly, from birth to 21 days. Fish fed the commercial diets grew at a faster rate and reached a larger final size than those fed periphyton. These results suggest that a periphyton diet is limited in nutritional elements compared to a pure algae diet and herbivorous organisms feeding upon it may experience negative effects on growth. By studying the costs and benefits of herbivory in a freshwater system, this paper contributes to a larger study of the question of why herbivory would evolve as an adaptation when seemingly inefficient compared to carnivorous and omnivorous diets.

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