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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 398:221-234 (2010)  -  DOI:

Diet and prey preference of juvenile lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris

Steven P. Newman1,2,*, Richard D. Handy1, Samuel H. Gruber2,3

1School of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK
2Bimini Biological Field Station, Bimini, Bahamas
3Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami, Miami 33149-1098, Florida, USA

ABSTRACT: Sharks are often regarded as opportunistic asynchronous predators that feed on the most abundant prey. In the present study, 2 populations of juvenile lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris were investigated from Bimini, Bahamas, with well-defined home ranges facilitating the estimation of prey preference. Stomach contents were quantitatively analysed from 396 lemon sharks with data on prey species and abundance obtained from quantitative sampling of mangrove and seagrass faunal communities to elucidate preferences with respect to prey type, prey size and location. Yellowfin mojarra Gerres cinereus dominated the diet of juvenile lemon sharks (>50% by weight and percentage index of relative importance, %IRI), even when present in lower abundances in the environment. Preference was determined and compared using abundance, %IRI values and original weight of prey, with the latter preferred due to their close relationship with energetic intake. Juvenile lemon sharks do not feed indiscriminately, but exhibit prey preference and size selection. Juvenile lemon sharks at Bimini demonstrated a hierarchy of prey preference: parrotfish (Scaridae) > mojarra (Gerreidae) > toadfish (Batrachoididae) > filefish (Balistidae) > grunts (Haemulidae) > barracuda (Sphyraenidae). High overlap between shark diet and mangrove communities revealed the importance of mangroves to lemon sharks and their prey. Lemon sharks fed disproportionately on intermediate sized teleosts and crustaceans, with maximum prey size of nursery-bound sharks primarily limited by availability in the environment. We conclude that sharks can be highly plastic foragers, capable of selective feeding, but will switch to more opportunistic foraging when environmental conditions deteriorate.

KEY WORDS: Diet · Prey preference · Size selection · Predator–prey relationship · Foraging ecology · Lemon shark

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Cite this article as: Newman SP, Handy RD, Gruber SH (2010) Diet and prey preference of juvenile lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 398:221-234.

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