MEPS 485:223-234 (2013)  -  doi:10.3354/meps10341

Hagfish feeding habits along a depth gradient inferred from stable isotopes

Vincent Zintzen1,*, Karyne M. Rogers2, Clive D. Roberts1, Andrew L. Stewart1, Marti J. Anderson3

1Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 169 Tory Street, Wellington, New Zealand
2National Isotope Centre, GNS Science, 30 Gracefield Rd, Gracefield 5010, Lower Hutt 5040, New Zealand
3New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study (NZIAS), Massey University, Albany Campus, Auckland, New Zealand

ABSTRACT: Feeding habits of 3 hagfish species were investigated along a depth gradient (~50 to 900 m) in New Zealand using nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) stable isotopes. Neomyxine biniplicata had the lowest mean δ15N value (14.2‰), followed by Eptatretus cirrhatus (14.9 ‰) and Eptatretus sp. 1 (15.8‰). Neomyxine biniplicata (~50 m depth) was characterized by (1) relative low lipid content in muscles and (2) consistent body condition index which together with its trophic position indicated that this species probably acquires its food by active predation, supplemented by opportunistic scavenging. Eptatretus cirrhatus (48 to 912 m) and Eptatretus sp. 1 (290 to 922 m) had similar morphology, but their δ15N signature indicated that they were feeding on slightly different trophic levels. For Eptatretus sp. 1, the combination of (1) variable lipid content, indicating phases of feeding and fasting, (2) decreasing body condition index with depth, indicating less regular feeding at depth, (3) increasing δ15N with depth and (4) decreasing δ13C signature with depth, pointed towards a feeding behaviour specialized in scavenging on large but rare falls of high-level predators such as whales, sharks or bony fishes. On the other hand, E. cirrhatus was characterized by (1) less variable lipid content, (2) a body condition index not influenced by depth, (3) δ15N values decreasing with depth and δ13C values constant across its depth range, which is likely to indicate a more opportunistic and mobile feeding behaviour on a range of prey.


KEY WORDS: Fish · Ecology · Nitrogen · Carbon · Body condition index · Lipid content · Eptatretus · Neomyxine


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Cite this article as: Zintzen V, Rogers KM, Roberts CD, Stewart AL, Anderson MJ (2013) Hagfish feeding habits along a depth gradient inferred from stable isotopes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 485:223-234

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