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Investigating trophic-level variability in Celtic Sea fish predators

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The trophic level (TL) mean and variance, and the degree of omnivory for five Celtic Sea fish predators were estimated using a database of stomach content records characterized by a high level of taxonomic resolution. The predators occupied a high position in the food web, i.e. 4·75 for Atlantic cod Gadus morhua, 4·44 for haddock Melanogrammus aeglefinus, 4·88 for European hake Merluccius merluccius, 5·00 for megrim Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis and 5·27 for whiting Merlangius merlangus. The level of taxonomic resolution of the prey did not greatly affect mean TL predator values; an effect on variance was evident, low resolution masking intra-population variability in TL. Generalized additive models (GAM) were used to explain the variability of predator TL caused by environmental variables (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, division and season) and predator characteristics (total length, LT). Significant year, location season and interaction effects were found for some species and with LT at the scale of ICES subdivision. The species-specific variability of TL could be due to spatio-temporal variations in prey availability and in predator selectivity following ontogenetic changes. Omnivorous fish TL was less affected by spatio-temporal variations. In addition, results showed that the omnivory index and TL variability provide dissimilar information on predator feeding strategy. Combining information on TL variability and omnivory allowed between within-individual and between-individual components contributing to trophic niche width to be separated and the type of generalization of fish predators to be identified.
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Keywords: GAM; food web; indicator; omnivory; predation; trophic level

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Ifremer, Département EMH, B. P. 21105, 44311 Nantes Cedex 03, France 2: Agrocampus Rennes, Pôle Halieutique, Laboratoire d’Ecologie Halieutique, 65 rue de St-Brieuc, C. S. 84215, 35042 Rennes Cedex, France

Publication date: 2008-09-01

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