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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Trophic importance of small pelagic fish to marine predators of the Mediterranean Sea

Jazel Ouled-Cheikh*, Joan Giménez, Marta Albo-Puigserver, Joan Navarro, Elena Fernández-Corredor, José María Bellido, Maria Grazia Pennino, Marta Coll

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Small pelagic fish (SPF) species such as European sardine (Sardina pilchardus), European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus), round sardinella (Sardinella aurita) and European sprat (Sprattus sprattus) play important ecological roles in the Mediterranean Sea marine ecosystems. However, changes of SPF abundance and biomass have been observed in the basin recently. Therefore, uncovering the trophic importance of SPF for their predators is key to unravelling potential ecological causes and consequences of SPF population changes related to predator dynamics. Here, we reviewed 101 published studies reporting the presence of the SPF species named above in the diet of marine predators inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea. We found that the number of species preying on SPF was highest for teleost fish species, followed by elasmobranchs, seabirds, marine mammals, cephalopods and sea turtles. These predators were both commercial and non-commercial taxa and ranged from medium to highly vulnerable, and were mostly Least Concern species from a conservation point of view, with few exceptions such as the Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus), a Critically Endangered species. Geographic information showed that European sardine was more important in the diet of predators from the western Mediterranean basin, while European anchovy consumption was higher in the eastern side. Round sardinella was particularly consumed in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and European sprat was anecdotally consumed. The importance of SPF in the diet of Mediterranean predators may indicate a bottom-up control of the marine ecosystem, despite the limited temporal information that precluded the evaluation of temporal changes, highlighting the need to develop new studies in this direction.