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MEPS
Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 615:159-176 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12915

Multi-tissue stable isotope analysis reveals resource partitioning and trophic relationships of large reef-associated predators

Mario Espinoza1,2,3,*, Jordan Matley4, Michelle R. Heupel5, Andrew J. Tobin1, Aaron T. Fisk4, Colin A. Simpfendorfer1

1Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture & College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
2AIMS@JCU, Australian Institute of Marine Science, College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
3Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología & Escuela de Biologia, Universidad de Costa Rica, 2060-11501 San José, Costa Rica
4Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, Windsor, Ontario N9B 304, Canada
5Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB No 3, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Defining the role of reef predators is particularly important given the rapid rate at which some species are declining, yet knowledge of trophic relationships is often lacking, particularly for large wide-ranging species that may use coral reefs seasonally or opportunistically. We used a multi-tissue stable isotope approach to investigate the trophic ecology of common reef predators in the central Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Our study revealed significant trophic separation among reef predators, especially when considering isotopic data from muscle, a slower turnover tissue. Based on muscle data, the bull shark Carcharhinus leucas, a large wide-ranging coastal species, occupied a higher trophic position and had a larger isotopic niche breadth (19.1‰2) relative to smaller predators, including resident sharks (4.5 ± 0.7‰2) and large-bodied teleosts (4.4 ± 1.8‰2). Spanish mackerel Scomberomorus commerson and bull sharks had the largest unique total areas of isotopic niche space (expressed as a percentage) that did not overlap with any other species, 95% and 69.4%, respectively, which means they had lower isotopic overlap. In general, faster turnover tissues such as whole blood and plasma showed higher isotopic overlap and smaller niche breadth for all reef predators. These results suggest that bull sharks use similar prey resources to large and small resident predators, at least during short periods. Our findings highlight the importance of investigating dietary changes in faster-turnover tissues of reef predators, particularly large wide-ranging species, which may have key roles in coral reef food webs through direct predation and competition.


KEY WORDS: Trophic ecology · Shark · Food web · Coral reef · Spatial ecology · Great Barrier Reef


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Cite this article as: Espinoza M, Matley J, Heupel MR, Tobin AJ, Fisk AT, Simpfendorfer CA (2019) Multi-tissue stable isotope analysis reveals resource partitioning and trophic relationships of large reef-associated predators. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 615:159-176. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12915

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