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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 516:267-273 (2014)  -  DOI:

Prey or predator—expanding the food web role of sandeel Ammodytes marinus

Ole Ritzau Eigaard*,**, Mikael van Deurs**, Jane W. Behrens, Dorte Bekkevold, Keith Brander, Marie Plambech, Kristian Schreiber Plet-Hansen, Henrik Mosegaard

National Institute of Aquatic Resources (DTU Aqua), Charlottenlund Castle, 2920 Charlottenlund, Denmark
*Corresponding author:
**These authors contributed equally to this work

ABSTRACT: We report an unexpected observation of lesser sandeel Ammodytes marinus foraging on juveniles and late larval stages of the same species. This recording sheds new light on the cannibalistic and piscivorous capacity of forage fish and raises a number of questions about the role of forage fish in marine food webs. In 2012 and 2013, the stomachs of 748 sandeels from 36 different commercial sandeel hauls in the central North Sea were opened, and 9% of these contained late-stage sandeel larvae. In order to better understand the cannibalistic nature of sandeels, we made a detailed analysis of another 450 sandeels from a single haul with a high frequency of apparent cannibals. One-third of the stomachs contained a minimum of 1 young sandeel (mean length 2.7 cm; max. length 4.9 cm), 10% contained 5 or more, and 1 stomach contained 18. Analyses of sample DNA confirmed that predator and prey were conspecifics. Larger specimens were more likely to be cannibals. Among cannibals, however, the specific sandeel larvae consumption was independent of cannibal size. We argue that this piscivorous cannibalistic behaviour may not only be a key factor in explaining recruitment fluctuations in North Sea sandeel stocks, but it may also add a new element to the complexity of energy flow in marine food chains.

KEY WORDS: Cannibalism · Energy flow · Forage fish · Food web · Piscivory · Population dynamics · Trophic control

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Cite this article as: Eigaard OR, van Deurs M, Behrens JW, Bekkevold D and others (2014) Prey or predator—expanding the food web role of sandeel Ammodytes marinus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 516:267-273.

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