MEPS 561:173-187 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11937

Two’s company, three’s a crowd: fine-scale habitat partitioning by depth among sympatric species of marine mesopredator

Nicolas E. Humphries1,*, Samantha J. Simpson1,2, Victoria J. Wearmouth1, David W. Sims1,2,3

1Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK
2Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, Waterfront Campus, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK
3Centre for Biological Sciences, Building 85, University of Southampton, Highfield Campus, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A sympatric assemblage of morphologically similar predators is expected to exhibit fine-scale habitat segregation, or resource partitioning, to reduce the effects of direct competition. This principle has been well studied for predators in terrestrial ecosystems. In the marine environment, the fine-scale spatial segregation of sympatric species of large predators is poorly understood because detailed movement and behavioural data are often not available across multiple species within the same timeframe. The ways in which co-occurring congeneric predators separate spatially is even less well understood. Medium-sized species of skates (genus Raja) co-occur in temperate habitats of the north-east Atlantic Ocean, share similar morphologies and have distributional ranges that overlap significantly in the western English Channel ecosystem. In the present study, detailed depth time series retrieved from 89 electronic data storage tags attached to 4 species of skate were analysed to determine preferred depth ranges. The 4 species were found to segregate spatially into 2 groups, with one group having a significantly shallower core annual depth range than the other. To our knowledge, fine-scale segregation by depth has not been observed previously. Interestingly, the members of each species group appeared complementary, each group comprising species with different dietary preferences and with a larger and smaller body size. An understanding of how core depth ranges differ and how these species utilise vertical habitat could potentially enable geographic ranges around the coast to be predicted, with important implications for how these species interact with fisheries and Marine Protected Areas.


KEY WORDS: Segregation · Resources · Marine · Raja · Ray · Skate · Niche


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Cite this article as: Humphries NE, Simpson SJ, Wearmouth VJ, Sims DW (2016) Two’s company, three’s a crowd: fine-scale habitat partitioning by depth among sympatric species of marine mesopredator. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 561:173-187. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11937

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