Inter-Research > MEPS > v497 > p157-178  

MEPS 497:157-178 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10609

Decadal diet shift in yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares suggests broad-scale food web changes in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean

Robert J. Olson1,*, Leanne M. Duffy1, Petra M. Kuhnert2, Felipe Galván-Magaña3, Noemi Bocanegra-Castillo3,4, Vanessa Alatorre-Ramírez3

1Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, 8901 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
2CSIRO Computational Informatics, Private Bag 2, Glen Osmond, South Australia 5064, Australia
3Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Apartado Postal 592, La Paz, Baja California Sur, CP 23000 México
4Present address: Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste SC, Instituto Politécnico Nacional 195, Playa Palo de Santa Rita Sur, La Paz, Baja California Sur, CP 23096 México
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Widespread climate-induced habitat compression and reductions in biological production are beginning to alter food webs in tropical and subtropical oceans, but the effects on mid-trophic level micronekton communities that support commercially important pelagic fishes are unclear. The predation habits of yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares, a wide-ranging generalist predator with high energy requirements, provide rare insights into the distribution and availability of prey communities in pelagic regions. We used a modified classification tree approach to analyze spatial, temporal, environmental, and biological covariates explaining the predation patterns of 3362 yellowfin sampled across the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) during two 2 yr periods occurring a decade apart. Persistent zoogeographical assemblages of prey were important only in relatively small subtropical regions at the extreme northern and southern ranges of the purse-seine fishery for tunas. Prey biomass patterns for the majority of the samples over most of the ETP (6°S to 17°N, coast to 150°W) were best explained by a tree partition distinguishing samples by sampling period, 1992 to 1994 and 2003 to 2005. The classification tree revealed that a major diet shift had transpired in the heart of the ETP. Yellowfin predation had changed from primarily larger epipelagic fish prey in the 1990s to a diverse array of smaller mesopelagic species and a crustacean that apparently had expanded its range in the 2000s. Partial dependence plots from the tree model showed range expansions previously described for some prey and unknown for other prey. Diet analysis of selected marine predators offers a practical means of monitoring prey communities poorly sampled by conventional methods.


KEY WORDS: Classification and regression tree · Diet shift · Eastern Pacific · Food web · Predator-prey interaction · Trophic ecology · Tuna


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Cite this article as: Olson RJ, Duffy LM, Kuhnert PM, Galván-Magaña F, Bocanegra-Castillo N, Alatorre-Ramírez V (2014) Decadal diet shift in yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares suggests broad-scale food web changes in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 497:157-178. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10609

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