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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 361:21-34 (2008)  -  DOI:

Feeding niche segregation among the Northeast Atlantic community of oceanic top predators

C. Pusineri1, O. Chancollon1, J. Ringelstein1, V. Ridoux1,2,*

1LIENSs (LIttoral, ENvironnement et Sociétés), UMR 6250, and 2Centre de Recherche sur les Mammifères Marins, Université de La Rochelle, 17071 La Rochelle cedex, France
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: In the Northeast Atlantic, off the Bay of Biscay, the pelagic top predator community is mainly composed of the blue shark Prionace glauca, the swordfish Xiphias gladius, the albacore tuna Thunnus alalunga, the common dolphin Delphinus delphis and the striped dolphin Stenella coerulaeoalba. The present study is aimed at determining the patterns of feeding niche segregation among this oceanic top predator assemblage. Overlaps were measured in terms of prey taxa and prey sizes. Preferred foraging depth ranges and diel patterns were inferred from prey compositions and digestion conditions. In terms of prey taxa, the blue shark, the albacore and the swordfish segregated fairly well from each other and from the 2 dolphins, whereas the 2 dolphins showed considerable overlap. In terms of prey sizes, substantial overlap was found between the blue shark and the swordfish, but these predators differed from the 2 dolphins and the albacore, which, in turn, overlapped considerably. Spatio-temporally, the blue shark and the swordfish appeared to be predominantly diurnal mesopelagic predators, while the albacore and the dolphins were mostly nocturnal epipelagic feeders. Prey diversity was higher in the 2 dolphins, which also showed a lower interindividual variability in stomach content composition. The 2 dolphins have the highest energy needs and are bound to the surface for breathing; the albacore is also bound to the surface layer for physiological reasons (swim bladder development and body temperature control): all 3 rely on small gregarious epi- to vertically migrating mesopelagic prey species of high energy content. The swordfish and the blue shark have much lower energy needs and are not restricted to the surface layer; they are better able to forage on scattered, deep-living, large-size and low-energy prey. Hence, within the whole community, the energetics of predation and constraints relative to the sea surface are the main structuring factors, and not the relationship between predator size and prey size.

KEY WORDS: Top predator community · Diet · Oceanic Bay of Biscay · Foraging niche segregation

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Cite this article as: Pusineri C, Chancollon O, Ringelstein J, Ridoux V (2008) Feeding niche segregation among the Northeast Atlantic community of oceanic top predators. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 361:21-34.

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