MEPS 268:245-264 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps268245

Foraging ecology of the early life stages of four sympatric shark species

Dana M. Bethea1,3,*, Jeffrey A. Buckel1, John K. Carlson2

1Department of Zoology, North Carolina State University, Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, 303 College Circle, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
2Southeast Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Panama City Laboratory, 3500 Delwood Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida 32408, USA
3Present address: Southeast Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Panama City Laboratory, 3500 Delwood Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida 32408, USA

ABSTRACT: Sharks may have an important role in marine ecosystems in relation to populations of fish and invertebrates at lower trophic levels. Fishery management plans stress the need for an ecosystem approach, but few quantitative studies on the foraging ecology of sharks have been published. Stomach contents and catch data of early life stages of Atlantic sharpnose Rhizoprionodon terraenovae, blacktip Carcharhinus limbatus, finetooth Carcharhinus isodon, and spinner sharks Carcharhinus brevipinna taken from fishery independent surveys in Apalachicola Bay, Florida, USA, were examined to test for overlap in resource use. Young-of-the-year Atlantic sharpnose sharks were found to feed mainly on shrimp, juveniles on sciaenids, and adults on clupeids. Young-of-the-year blacktip sharks were found to feed mainly on sciaenids, whereas juveniles fed on clupeids. The primary prey of young-of-the-year and juvenile finetooth and spinner sharks was clupeids. Eight of 10 prey size-selectivity tests showed neutral selection. Compared to relative prey sizes published for teleost piscivores, Atlantic sharpnose and finetooth sharks consume relatively small-sized prey while blacktip sharks consume relatively large prey. Regardless of maturity state and species, diet overlap was high for species-life stage combinations that are similar in size; however, species-life stages did not show significant habitat overlap. Prey categories shared by similar-sized species may not be limiting, although shark species may have alleviated competition pressure by partitioning the resource of time or space.


KEY WORDS: Foraging ecology · Resource partitioning · Competition · Prey size-predator size relationships · Apalachicola Bay · Rhizoprionodon terraenovae · Carcharhinus limbatus · Carcharhinus isodon · Carcharhinus brevipinna


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