Habitat use and foraging behavior of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) in a seagrass ecosystem
Understanding the foraging behavior and spatial distribution of top predators is crucial to gaining a complete understanding of communities. However, studies of top predators are often logistically difficult and it is important to develop appropriate methods for identifying factors influencing their spatial distribution. Sharks are top predators in many marine communities, yet no studies have quantified the habitat use of large predatory sharks or determined the factors that might influence shark spatial distributions. We used acoustic telemetry and animal-borne video cameras ("Crittercam") to test the hypothesis that tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) habitat use is determined by the availability of their prey. We also used Crittercam to conduct the first investigation of foraging behavior of tiger sharks. To test for habitat preferences of sharks, the observed proportion of time in each habitat for each individual was compared to the predicted values for that individual based on correlated random walk and track randomization methods. Although there was individual variation in habitat use, tiger sharks preferred shallow seagrass habitats, where their prey is most abundant. Despite multiple encounters with potential prey, sharks rarely engaged in prolonged high-speed chases, and did not attack prey that were vigilant. We propose that the tiger sharks' foraging tactic is one of stealth, and sharks rely upon close approaches to prey in order to be successful. This study shows that using appropriate analysis techniques and a variety of field methods it is possible to elucidate the factors influencing habitat use and gain insights into the foraging behavior of elusive top predators.
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