MEPS 302:199-206 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps302199

Stable isotopes from multiple tissues reveal diet switching in sharks

M. Aaron MacNeil1,3, Gregory B. Skomal2, Aaron T. Fisk1,*

1Warnell School of Forest Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30606, USA
2Martha’s Vineyard Marine Fisheries Field Station, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, PO Box 68, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts 02568, USA
3Present address: Department of Marine Science and Technology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Food web relationships in marine systems have traditionally been defined through stomach content analysis, but biochemical techniques have recently emerged to validate and broaden temporal diet patterns. Stable isotope analysis has become a practical tool for evaluating these relationships in aquatic systems; however, routine sampling of muscle tissue captures only part of the trophic information available from each animal. We compared δ15N and δ13C values among liver, muscle and cartilage in the blue shark Prionace glauca, shortfin mako Isurus oxyrinchus, and common thresher Alopias vulpinus from the northwest Atlantic to show how multiple-tissue sampling captured feeding relationships which would have been invisible to muscle tissue alone. Specifically, we demonstrated evidence of a cephalopod to bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix diet switch in the shortfin mako in spring, and found that the blue shark and common thresher have consistent diets throughout the year. We concluded that consistency observed among stable isotope values in multiple tissues implied that the fish were in steady-state with the isotope ratios of their diet and that multiple tissues should be used in trophic assessments of large pelagic fishes. Further experiments to quantify the turnover of stable isotopes in different tissues and species are needed to improve the accuracy of stable-isotope analyses .


KEY WORDS: δ15N · δ13C · Diet · Trophic ecology · Metabolism · Elasmobranch


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