MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI:

From trophic ecology to fish condition: contrasting pathways for the European hake in the western Mediterranean

Lucía Rueda*, María Valls, Manuel Hidalgo, Beatriz Guijarro, Antonio Esteban, Enric Massutí


ABSTRACT: In marine ecosystems, where variability in the type and availability of food resources is a common property, species must adjust their feeding behaviour in order to fulfil their energetic needs within the requirements of ontogeny. These variations in the quality and quantity of food supply are crucial for the nutritional status of individuals. We have approached these relationships by analyzing the isotopic composition and somatic body condition of European hake within three areas in the western Mediterranean: the waters off the Ebro river Delta and the north-eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, both in the Spanish mainland, and the Balearic Islands. These locations have contrasting oceanographic conditions and degrees of productivity. Results reveal important ontogenetic and spatial differences in the isotopic composition and body condition of recruits and juveniles, as well as a distinct trophic structure and pathways between areas. Isotopic signatures revealed differences between the waters off the mainland and the Balearic Islands, with an overlap in the isotopic niche of recruits and juveniles in the mainland waters that contrasted with a clear separation in the Islands. The linkage between trophic ecology and somatic body condition revealed that this relationship cannot be as straightforward as expected, highlighting the importance of ecological processes such as competition for food resources. This study reveals the short scale spatial complexity in the trophic ecology of European hake and its relationship with the nutritional status. Acknowledging such complexity is of high importance towards the implementation of integrative management approaches of marine living resources.