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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 655:157-170 (2020)  -  DOI:

Novel insights into the diet of southern stingrays and Caribbean whiptail rays

Owen R. O’Shea1,2,*, Molly H. Meadows3, Ethan E. Wrigglesworth3, Jason Newton4, Lucy A. Hawkes5

1Shark Research and Conservation Program, The Cape Eleuthera Institute, Eleuthera, The Bahamas
2The Centre for Ocean Research and Education, PO Box 255-16, Gregory Town, Eleuthera, The Bahamas
3University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Penryn Campus, Cornwall TR10 9FE, UK
4NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility, SUERC, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride, Glasgow G75 0QF, UK
5University of Exeter, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Environmental Biology Group, Hatherly Laboratories, Exeter, EX4 4PS, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Caribbean whiptail and southern stingrays are large-bodied mesopredators, occupying shallow, nearshore ecosystems of The Bahamas, yet virtually nothing is known of their diet or potential resource competition. We used stomach content analysis via gastric lavage and stable isotope analysis to investigate the diet of 94 Caribbean whiptail rays Styracura schmardae and 112 southern stingrays Hypanus americanus across 3 locations in the central Bahamas. Gastric lavage was used to identify prey consumed and compared to stable isotope analysis of δ15N, δ13C and δ34S of barb, muscle, blood and skin, representing different temporal integration periods. Both species appeared to consume a majority of crustaceans and annelids, although δ13C values suggested that Caribbean whiptail rays have larger isotopic niche space across isotopes sampled (potentially broader diet) than southern stingrays, ranging from 5.82-3.43‰2, and a greater variance in δ13C. This suggests Caribbean whiptail rays potentially feed on prey from either a wider geographic range or from different habitats. Caribbean whiptail and southern stingrays are known to spatio-temporally overlap, and their isotopic niche overlapped by 35.6%. This study represents the first integrated diet estimate for southern stingrays obtained using multiple techniques, and the first ever diet assessment in Caribbean whiptail rays. These data are critical for conservation of coastal ray species and management of coastal and nearshore environments throughout the region.

KEY WORDS: Atlantic chupare · Bahamas · Diet composition · Elasmobranch · Gastric lavage · Foraging · Trophic ecology

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Cite this article as: O’Shea OR, Meadows MH, Wrigglesworth EE, Newton J, Hawkes LA (2020) Novel insights into the diet of southern stingrays and Caribbean whiptail rays. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 655:157-170.

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