Effect of feeding experience on growth, vulnerability to predation and survival of esocids

We evaluated direct and indirect effects of feeding experience on growth, food consumption, susceptibility to predation, and survival of esocids. We conducted five experimental stockings of equal numbers and similar sizes (200 mm) of experienced (minnow‐fed) and naive (pellet‐fed) muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) (two stockings) and tiger muskellunge (muskellunge × northern pike (E. lucius) ; three stockings) in reservoirs. Feeding experience had no direct influence on prey consumption and growth. Food consumption was similar in laboratory pool experiments. In contrast, experienced esocids exhibited higher fall survival than naive fish of both taxa. Feeding experience indirectly affected survival, because predation by largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) was higher on naive esocids. Examination of potential mechanisms in field and laboratory experiments suggested predation vulnerability was not affected by differences in habitat selection, foraging behavior, antipredatory behavior, or dispersal. Color pattern between minnow‐ and pellet‐fed fish differed in both absolute color and contrast between light and dark markings, which may influence susceptibility to predation. Our results suggest that feeding experience can affect survival of introduced fish.