Ecomorphology of largemouth bass relative to a native trophic analogue explains its high invasive impact.
Predicting and understanding the impact of biological invaders is a global ecological imperative. Progress has been made through the application of phenomenological analysis via comparative functional response analysis. However, little is known about the mechanisms which drive high-magnitude functional responses of invasive species, especially when compared to trophically analogous natives. Largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides is a freshwater invasive species evaluated as a more efficient predator, with a higher-magnitude functional response, compared to a native analogue, the Cape kurper Sandelia capensis. In order to determine what traits drive this difference we quantified handling time behaviours (detection time, catch time, processing time) of both predator species and prey/predator size ratio, and employ an ecomorphological approach to determine whether largemouth bass is a more specialised predator than Cape kurper. There was no difference in detection time between the species, but largemouth bass were significantly and on average five times faster at catching prey than Cape kurper. Both species' processing time was positively related to prey size, but Cape kurper was on average 4.5 times faster than largemouth bass. Ecomorphological data indicate that largemouth bass was the more specialised pursuit hunter for fish, whereas Cape kurper was better at ambush hunting. This suggests that the ecological impact of largemouth bass may be exacerbated in areas where there is habitat simplification which can lead to the extirpation of local small-bodied fish. In addition, there may be non-consumptive detrimental effects on trophically analogous natives through competitive exclusion.