Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 8, pp 1703–1714 | Cite as

Trophic ecology of New Zealand triplefin fishes (Family Tripterygiidae)

  • David A. FearyEmail author
  • M. Wellenreuther
  • K. D. Clements
Original Paper


In many vertebrate radiations, food partitioning among closely related taxa is a key factor in both the maintenance of species diversity and the process of diversification. We compared diet composition and jaw morphology of 18 New Zealand triplefin species (F. Tripterygiidae) to examine whether species have diversified along a trophic axis. These fishes predominantly utilised small, mobile benthic invertebrates, and interspecific differences in diet composition appeared to be mainly attributable to habitat- or size-dependent feeding behaviour. Although there were differences in the relative size of the bones comprising the oral jaw apparatus between species, the majority showed an apparatus consistent with a relatively high velocity, low force jaw movement indicative of a diet of evasive prey. Phylogenetic comparative analyses showed that the evolution of jaw lever ratios and diet breadth was best explained by a non-directional model in which character changes have occurred randomly and independent of phylogeny. The mode of diet breadth evolution was gradual and the tempo has not accelerated or slowed down over time. The mode of evolution for the jaw lever ratios has been gradual for the opening but punctuated for the closing levers, suggesting that evolutionary changes have occurred rapidly for the latter trait. The tempo of trait evolution for the jaw opening levers has not accelerated or slowed down over time, while the tempo for the jaw closing levers has accelerated towards the tips of the tree, which is suggestive of species level adaptation. The lack of phylogenetic signal in diet breadth and jaw lever ratios appears most likely to be a correlated response to the marked habitat diversification in this group, and is thus the passive outcome of prey availability in species-specific habitat types. Overall, the trophic ecology of New Zealand’s triplefin fauna parallels the generalist strategy typical of the family worldwide, suggesting that trophic resource partitioning has not been an important factor in the evolution of these fishes.


Diet Composition Diet Breadth Mechanical Advantage Trophic Resource Gammarid Amphipod 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank L. Jawad, R. Baker, G. Almany and two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments, B. Creese and J. Grieve for taxonomic assistance, M. Westneat for advice on jaw levers, and A. Stewart and D. Neale for providing triplefin samples. This study was funded by a Marsden grant to K.D. Clements.

Supplementary material

227_2009_1205_MOESM1_ESM.docx (33 kb)
Appendix (DOCX 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Feary
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • M. Wellenreuther
    • 3
  • K. D. Clements
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.International Network on Water, Environment and Health, PJSCUnited Nations UniversityDubaiUnited Arab Emirates
  3. 3.Section for Animal EcologyUniversity of LundLundSweden
  4. 4.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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