, Volume 80, Issue 2-3, pp 221-237

Standardized diet compositions and trophic levels of skates (Chondrichthyes: Rajiformes: Rajoidei)

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Abstract

Skates by virtue of their abundance and widespread occurrence appear to play an influential role in the food webs of demersal marine communities. However, few quantitative dietary studies have been conducted on this elasmobranch group. Therefore, to better understand the ecological role of skates, standardized diet compositions and trophic level (TL) values were calculated from quantitative studies, and compared within and among skate and shark taxa. Prey items were grouped into 11 general categories to facilitate standardized diet composition and TL calculations. Trophic level values were calculated for 60 skate species with TL estimates ranging from 3.48 to 4.22 (mean TL = 3.80 ± 0.02 SE). Standardized diet composition results revealed that decapods and fishes were the main prey taxa of most skate species followed by amphipods and polychaetes. Correspondingly, cluster analysis of diet composition data revealed four major trophic guilds, each dominated by one of these prey groups. Fish and decapod guilds were dominant comprising 39 of 48 species analyzed. Analysis of skate families revealed that the Arhynchobatidae and Rajidae had similar TL values of 3.86 and 3.79 (t-test, P = 0.27), respectively. The Anacanthobatidae were represented by a single species, Cruriraja parcomaculata, with a TL of 3.53. Statistical comparison of TL values calculated for five genera (Bathyraja, Leucoraja, Raja, Rajella, Rhinoraja) revealed a significant difference between Bathyraja and Rajella (t-test, P = 0.03). A positive correlation was observed between TL and total length (L T) with larger skates (e.g. >100 cm L T) tending to have a higher calculated TL value (>3.9). Skates were found to occupy TLs similar to those of several co-occurring demersal shark families including the Scyliorhinidae, Squatinidae, and Triakidae. Results from this study support recent assertions that skates utilize similar resources to those of other upper trophic-level marine predators, e.g. seabirds, marine mammals, and sharks. These preliminary findings will hopefully encourage future research into the trophic relationships and ecological impact of these interesting and important demersal predators.