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Stable isotope profiles of large marine predators: viable indicators of trophic position, diet, and movement in sharks?

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Understanding the role of predators is challenging but critical for ecosystem management. For community dynamics, predator-specific size-based variation in diet, trophic position, and habitat use are rarely accounted for. Using two applied tools (stable isotopes and stomach content data), we examined inter- and intra-species ontogenetic variability in diet (stomach contents), trophic position (TPSIA for δ15N and TPSCA for stomach contents), and habitat use (δ13C) of two large sharks, the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and the dusky (Carcharhinus obscurus). Stomach contents identified size-based and gender-specific shifts in diet indicating resource partitioning for and between species. Calculated TP for the two sharks varied by method, either TPSIA or TPSCA and with species, size, and gender, but were complicated by differing baselines and broad functional prey groups, respectively. TP increased with size for S. lewini, but was low in large C. obscurus compared with small sharks. Size-based δ13C profiles indicated habitat partitioning by sex in S. lewini and a movement to shelf edge foraging in large C. obscurus. These results demonstrate that predators exert proportional size-based effects on multiple components of the marine system that are further complicated by species- and gender-specific strategies.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, Private Bag 2, Umhlanga Rocks 4320, South Africa. 2: School of Ocean Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, Menai Bridge, Anglesey, LL59 5AB, United Kingdom. 3: Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada.

Publication date: December 23, 2011

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  • Published continuously since 1901 (under various titles), this monthly journal is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. It publishes perspectives (syntheses, critiques, and re-evaluations), discussions (comments and replies), articles, and rapid communications, relating to current research on cells, organisms, populations, ecosystems, or processes that affect aquatic systems. The journal seeks to amplify, modify, question, or redirect accumulated knowledge in the field of fisheries and aquatic science. Occasional supplements are dedicated to single topics or to proceedings of international symposia.
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