, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 391-404
Date: 11 Aug 2010

Trophic Resource Overlap Between Small Elasmobranchs and Sympatric Teleosts in Mid-Atlantic Bight Nearshore Habitats

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Abstract

Small, abundant elasmobranchs use shallow marine areas (<20 m depth) of the US Middle Atlantic coast as nurseries and adult foraging habitat, an area also used by a diverse assemblage of economically important juvenile and adult teleost species. Specimens of three small elasmobranch species (smooth dogfish Mustelus canis, clearnose skate Raja eglanteria, and bullnose ray Myliobatis freminvillii) were collected in August 2007 and 2008 from a study area of ∼150 km2, extending 22 km south from Ocean City, Maryland, USA (38° 19′ N) and offshore from 5- to 20-m depth. Stomach contents indicated that fish were part of the diets of smooth dogfish and clearnose skate at a level comparable with sympatric piscivorous teleosts. However, stable isotope data suggest that piscivory is likely an opportunistic foraging behavior in this habitat. Studied elasmobranchs were secondary-tertiary consumers with diets composed primarily of decapod crustaceans, fish, and mollusks. There was significant overlap in diet composition, spatial distribution, and diel stomach fullness patterns between clearnose skate, southern kingfish Menticirrhus americanus (teleost) and, to a lesser extent, smooth dogfish. Despite this evidence for piscivory, their relatively low densities suggest that predation by these elasmobranchs is unlikely to affect teleost populations in shallow coastal ocean habitats. If shared prey were to become scarce, then competitive interactions are possible.