MEPS 564:175-186 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11955

Trophic guild concept: factors affecting within‑guild consistency for tropical estuarine fish

Donna Hargreaves1,2,*, Amanda Buckland1, Marcus Sheaves1

1Estuary and Coastal Wetland Ecosystem Research Group, College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
2Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing, 111 George Street, Brisbane, Queensland 4001, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The trophic guild concept has proved useful in distilling the diverse feeding interactions displayed by fish in temperate estuaries into a standardised subset that simplifies the application of trophic information to management. However, the high species richness displayed by tropical flora and fauna introduces the potential for feeding diversity within presumed guilds, potentially reducing the value of the standard guild concept. We evaluated within-guild consistency for a group of tropical estuarine fish species comprising a presumably coherent trophic zoobenthivore feeding guild (i.e. fish that feed primarily on zoobenthic prey) within 10 estuarine systems in tropical northeastern Australia. The zoobenthivore assemblage did not form a single coherent trophic group, rather the different components of the zoobenthivore guild responded to the broad spectrum of available prey in distinctly different ways. Some species displayed quite general diets while others fed principally on particular types of zoobenthic prey. The distinct prey specialisations often lead to different members of the presumed guild participating in different food chain pathways within the estuarine food web. As a result, substantial and important trophic differences would be masked if these disparate components were aggregated into a single trophic guild. While simplifications can be valuable, and often necessary, in data-poor situations, the complexity uncovered in this study emphasises that caution is required in applying a broad simplified scheme such as the guild concept to specific situations. Caution must be used when applying a guild approach that imports interpretation from other species and/or locations and should be explicitly recognised as an interim position until more specific data can be acquired.


KEY WORDS: Trophic guild · Tropical estuary · Ecosystem · Management · Food webs


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Cite this article as: Hargreaves D, Buckland A, Sheaves M (2017) Trophic guild concept: factors affecting within‑guild consistency for tropical estuarine fish. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 564:175-186. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11955

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