Behavior of Sandeels Feeding on Herring Larvae

Villy Christensen*
Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver BC, Canada

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© 2010 Villy Christensen

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver BC, Canada; Tel +1 604 822 5751; Fax +1 604 822 8934; E-mail:


It is a common problem in ecosystem studies that information about predation on fish larvae is extremely sparse. There is little information about agents of mortality. This is likely to be because fish larvae are digested very rapidly in a predator's stomach. This study describes controlled experiments designed to evaluate the potential role of small low-trophic level fishes as predators on pelagic fish larvae. The study shows that sandeels, Ammodytes marinus, prefer herring larvae to copepods, their normal food items. When herring larvae are available the sandeels change behavior, their swimming speed increases drastically, and copepods are almost totally excluded from the diet. Once eaten, the herring larvae are only identifiable in the sandeel guts for 15-30 minutes using morphological criteria. It is concluded that abundant low-trophic level fishes potentially may have considerable impact on other fish species, even those that are normally not assumed to be predators on the low-trophic level fishes themselves.

Keywords: Fish predation, Clupea harengus, swimming speed, sand lance, cultivation-depensation.