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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 633:127-140 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13166

Bulk tissue and amino acid stable isotope analyses reveal global ontogenetic patterns in ocean sunfish trophic ecology and habitat use

N. D. Phillips1,2,*,**, E. A. Elliott Smith3,**, S. D. Newsome3, J. D. R. Houghton1,2, C. D. Carson4, J. Alfaro-Shigueto5,6,7, J. C. Mangel6,7, L. E. Eagling1, L. Kubicek8, C. Harrod9,10,11

1Queen’s Marine Laboratory, 12-13 The Strand, Portaferry, BT22 1PF, UK
2School of Biological Sciences, 19 Chlorine Gardens, Belfast, BT9 5DL, UK
3Department of Biology, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
4The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance, 11 Clarence Soule Drive, Middleboro, MA 02346, USA
5Universidad Cientifica del Sur, Facultad de Biologia Marina, Ant Panamericana Sur km 19, VES, Lima 15067, Peru
6ProDelphinus, Jose Galvez 780E, Lima 15074, Peru
7Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9EF, UK
8Aussermattweg 22, 3532 Zäziwil, Switzerland
9Instituto de Ciencias Naturales Alexander von Humboldt, Universidad de Antofagasta, Avenida Angamos 601, Antofagasta, Chile
10Instituto Antofagasta, Universidad de Antofagasta, Avenida Angamos 601, Antofagasta, Chile
11Núcleo Milenio INVASAL, Concepción, Chile
*Corresponding author:
**These authors contributed equally to this work

ABSTRACT: Ocean sunfish (Mola spp.) have largely been considered as obligate gelativores, but recent research has suggested that they undergo an unusual life history shift. In this study, analyses of bulk and amino acid nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) stable isotope ratios were employed to provide detailed insight into ontogenetic variation in sunfish trophic ecology and habitat use and to assess whether any observed patterns were common to populations around the world. Through this combined approach, a clear ontogenetic shift was identified in both trophic ecology and habitat use of ocean sunfish, indicating a complex trophic role that changes from more benthic to pelagic prey on a continuous scale as fish grow larger. The data also revealed strong population structuring with potential to assess connectivity between distinct groupings using isotopic analysis. When combined, these new insights into sunfish ecology may be of value to conservation management teams, indicating a broad ecological role, distinct population clustering and possible trans-Atlantic movements. These results suggest that the current mass bycatch of ocean sunfish may have far-reaching ecological implications and further highlights the growing need for conservation management of this vulnerable genus.


KEY WORDS: Diet · Pelagic · Benthic · Energy pathways · Ontogeny · Mola · Bycatch · Trophic position


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Cite this article as: Phillips ND, Elliott Smith EA, Newsome SD, Houghton JDR and others (2020) Bulk tissue and amino acid stable isotope analyses reveal global ontogenetic patterns in ocean sunfish trophic ecology and habitat use. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 633:127-140. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13166

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