, Volume 144, Issue 3, pp 439-448
Date: 15 Oct 2003

Comparisons between the diets of four abundant species of elasmobranchs in a subtropical embayment: implications for resource partitioning

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Abstract

The diets of one ray species (Rhinobatus typus) and three shark species (Carcharhinus cautus, Negaprion acutidens, Rhizoprionodon acutus) undergo size-related changes and differ among these species in the nearshore waters of a large subtropical embayment (Shark Bay) in which these elasmobranchs are abundant, thereby reducing the potential for competition for food within and among these four species. R. typus fed almost exclusively on penaeid prawns and portunid crabs, which is reflected in its narrow dietary breadth, whereas different species of teleosts constituted a major component of the diets of each size class of the three shark species. The prey consumed by the three shark species was diverse, with representatives of 15 teleost families being consumed by C. cautus and substantial volumes of cephalopods being ingested by that species and R. acutus. The pronounced differences in the diet of the single ray species and three shark species reflect differences between a bottom-dwelling and more pelagic life, and between modes of feeding and relative mouth sizes. The relative contributions of the different species of teleost to the diets of the three shark species varied. Thus, although each of these species fed on atherinids, labrids and sillaginids, C. cautus also consumed substantial amounts of platycephalids and terapontids and R. acutus and N. acutidens also ingested considerable amounts of clupeids. Furthermore, R. acutus, which is the only one of the four species that typically occurs over seagrass, was the only species that fed on the centropomid Psammoperca waigensis, which is very abundant in seagrass meadows. However, the sparid Rhabdosargus sarba, which lives in unvegetated areas, was never ingested by R. acutus, but was consumed by C. cautus and N. acutidens. As the individuals of R. typus increased in size, they progressively consumed proportionately smaller volumes of the penaeid prawns Penaeus merguiensis and Melicertus latisulcatus and relatively greater volumes of the portunid crab Portunus pelagicus, which is slightly larger and has a harder exoskeleton. In addition to teleosts, large C. cautus ingested substantial volumes of portunid crabs and ophidian reptiles, presumably sea snakes, while large N. acutidens also fed on the ray R. typus.

Communicated by G.F. Humphrey, Sydney