, Volume 127, Issue 2, pp 179-192

Trophic ecology of the stomiid (Pisces: Stomiidae) fish assemblage of the eastern Gulf of Mexico: Strategies, selectivity and impact of a top mesopelagic predator group

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Abstract

The trophic ecology of the stomiid assemblage (Pisces, Stomiiformes, Stomiidae) in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a region with physical and biological characteristics typical of oligotrophic low-latitude regimes, was investigated. Over 1400 specimens representing 69 species and 17 genera were examined. Four patterns of feeding were evident among the abundant stomiids: (1) myctophid predation; (2) zooplankton/small micronekton predation; (3) penaeidean shrimp predation; and (4) copepod/micronekton predation. One rare species preyed on cephalopods. Il was concluded that stomiids exhibited a high level of prey-selectivity, particularly considering the broad range of prey types available in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The absence of numerically dominant potential prey (e.g.Cyclothone spp., sternoptychids) in the diets of piscivorous stomiids is possibly a function of feeding periodicity coupled with stomiid vertical migration. Stomiids may feed at night in the upper 200 m on vertically migrating myctophids while disregarding co-occurring nonmigrating prey during the daytime. Integration of stomiid abundance and diet data suggests that: (1) stomiids are the dominant upper trophic-level predators of the Gulf of Mexico mesopelagial, (2) stomiids inflict the highest predation impact on myctophids in low-latitude midwater ecosystems, and (3) the historic use of predation-avoidance arguments to explain certain mesopelagic phenomena (e.g. vertical migration, ventral photophores) appears to be substantiated by estimates of stomiid predation-impact. The stomiids may serve as key trophic mediators in the transfer of energy from the mesopelagial to the bathyand benthopelagial.

Communicated by N.H. Marcus, Tallahassee