The ecological significance of the zooplanktivores, snipefish Macroramphosus spp. and boarfish Capros aper, in the food web of the south-east North Atlantic
The diets of slender snipefish Macroramphosus gracilis, longspine snipefish Macroramphosus scolopax and boarfish Capros aper, three very abundant species on the Portuguese coast, were studied from samples collected between July 2002 and April 2003. Variations in the diet with fish size, season and area, as well as diet overlap and diversity, are explored in this study. The diets of slender snipefish and boarfish were mainly composed of copepods, with the main prey being Temora spp. and Calanus spp., respectively. Mysid shrimps were the most important food item in the diet of longspine snipefish. During the summer season, when the availability of different prey items was highest, the two species of snipefish and the boarfish fed on different prey. Temora spp. were the most important prey in the stomachs of slender snipefish in the summer on the south-west coast, while Calanus spp. started appearing in the stomachs of boarfish in the spring in the north, increasing their abundance in the summer on the south and south-west coasts. The abundance of mysids appeared to increase in the autumn on the south-west coast, being at that time an important food item for both longspine snipefish and boarfish. For slender snipefish and boarfish, the differences in stomach species diversity were explained firstly by the season and then by the area and fish size. For longspine snipefish, the area did not explain the species diversity variability, season being the first variable determining the differences. Of all three species, slender snipefish was the one with highest diversity of stomach contents, particularly in spring and summer on the north and south-west coasts. Diet overlap between species was very low. No predation on eggs and larval stages of fishes was found for any of these fish species. This work is the first to address the diets of snipefish species and boarfish in the south-east North Atlantic, in a large spatio-temporal coverage. These species are important prey for many commercial species on the Portuguese coast and, given their abundance, may have a great impact on zooplankton communities, thus assuming a pivotal position in marine food webs.