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Causes and consequences of ontogenetic dietary shifts: a global synthesis using fish models

Sánchez-Hernández, Javier; Nunn, Andy D.; Adams, Colin E.; Amundsen, Per-Arne


Javier Sánchez-Hernández

Colin E. Adams

Per-Arne Amundsen


Ontogenetic dietary shifts (ODSs), the changes in diet utilisation occurring over the life span of an individual consumer, are widespread in the animal kingdom. Understanding ODSs provides fundamental insights into the biological and ecological processes that function at the individual, population and community levels, and is critical for the development and testing of hypotheses around key concepts in trophic theory on model organisms. Here, we synthesise historic and contemporary research on ODSs in fishes, and identify where further research is required. Numerous biotic and abiotic factors can directly or indirectly influence ODSs, but the most influential of these may vary spatially, temporally and interspecifically. Within the constraints imposed by prey availability, we identified competition and predation risk as the major drivers of ODSs in fishes. These drivers do not directly affect the trophic ontogeny of fishes, but may have an indirect effect on diet trajectories through ontogenetic changes in habitat use and concomitant changes in prey availability. The synthesis provides compelling evidence that ODSs can have profound ecological consequences for fish by, for example, enhancing individual growth and lifetime reproductive output or reducing the risk of mortality. ODSs may also influence food‐web dynamics and facilitate the coexistence of sympatric species through resource partitioning, but we currently lack a holistic understanding of the consequences of ODSs for population, community and ecosystem processes and functioning. Studies attempting to address these knowledge gaps have largely focused on theoretical approaches, but empirical research under natural conditions, including phylogenetic and evolutionary considerations, is required to test the concepts. Research focusing on inter‐individual variation in ontogenetic trajectories has also been limited, with the complex relationships between individual behaviour and environmental heterogeneity representing a particularly promising area for future research.


Sánchez-Hernández, J., Nunn, A. D., Adams, C. E., & Amundsen, P. (2019). Causes and consequences of ontogenetic dietary shifts: a global synthesis using fish models. Biological Reviews, 94(2), 539-554.

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Aug 30, 2018
Online Publication Date Sep 24, 2018
Publication Date 2019-04
Deposit Date Sep 4, 2018
Publicly Available Date Sep 25, 2019
Print ISSN 1464-7931
Electronic ISSN 1469-185X
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 94
Issue 2
Pages 539-554
Keywords Development-related dietary shifts; Ecological dynamics; Macroecology; Predator-prey interactions; Size-dependent mechanisms; Trophic ontogeny
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the accepted manuscript of an article published in Biological reviews, 2019. The version of record is available at the DOI link in this record.


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