Coral Reefs

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 357–367 | Cite as

Trophic ecology of reef sharks determined using stable isotopes and telemetry

  • C. W. SpeedEmail author
  • M. G. Meekan
  • I. C. Field
  • C. R. McMahon
  • K. Abrantes
  • C. J. A. Bradshaw


Establishing the ecological role of predators within an ecosystem is central to understanding community dynamics and is useful in designing effective management and conservation strategies. We analysed differences in the trophic ecology of four species of reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, Triaenodon obesus and Negaprion acutidens) at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, by analysing tissue stable isotopes (δ15N and δ13C). We also monitored animals using acoustic telemetry to determine long-term residency patterns in a bay at the southern end of the reef, Coral Bay. Overall, mean δ13C was similar among species, ranging between −10.9 and −11.8‰, suggesting a food-web dependency on coastal producers. Classification and regression tree analysis identified an effect of species on δ15N that separated C. amblyrhynchos and C. melanopterus from N. acutidens and T. obesus. For C. amblyrhynchos and C. melanopterus, animals were also divided by size classes, with smaller sharks having lower average δ15N than larger animals; this suggests that δ15N increases with size for these two species. Juvenile C. melanopterus, juvenile N. acutidens and adult T. obesus had trophic levels of 3.7, for juvenile C. amblyrhynchos and adult C. melanopterus it was 4, and adult C. amblyrhynchos had a value of 4.3. Trophic-level estimates for C. melanopterus and C. amblyrhynchos corroborate previous conclusions based on diet studies. We found no evidence for a difference in isotopic composition between resident and non-resident sharks. The lack of variation in isotopic composition was consistent with high mean residency of these species recorded using acoustic telemetry, which was 79% (±0.09 SE) of days monitored for T. obesus, followed by N. acutidens (57 ± 19.55%), C. amblyrhynchos (54 ± 13%) and C. melanopterus (33 ± 8.28%). High δ13C composition in reef sharks and long-term residency behaviour suggest that coastal marine reserves might provide effective conservation refuges for some species.


Elasmobranch Food web Acoustic monitoring Residency δ13δ15



We thank O. O’Shea, F. McGregor, G. Vianna, J. Ruppert, F. Wylie, S. Baccarella, P. Haskell, D. Simpson, I. Ford, C. Lochu and F. Cerutti for assistance with field work. We thank K. and W. McCarthy for provision of cryogenic facilities for sample storage. We are grateful to G. Hyndes for providing baseline isotopic information from Ningaloo Reef. Isotope processing and analysis were done by J. Tranter at Natural Isotopes, Edith Cowan University. All research was done with approval from the Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics Committee (#A07035). Access to Ningaloo Reef Marine Park and fauna sampling was done in compliance with the Department of Environment and Conservation (#CE002881 and #1719-2010-39) and the Western Australian Department of Fisheries (#SF7536).

Supplementary material

338_2011_850_MOESM1_ESM.doc (46 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 45 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. W. Speed
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • M. G. Meekan
    • 1
  • I. C. Field
    • 1
    • 3
  • C. R. McMahon
    • 2
  • K. Abrantes
    • 4
  • C. J. A. Bradshaw
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Australian Institute of Marine Science, The UWA Oceans Institute (M096)CrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.Australia, Research Institute for the Environment & LivelihoodsCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  3. 3.Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School for the EnvironmentMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Coastal and Estuary Ecosystem Ecology Laboratory, School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  5. 5.The Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  6. 6.South Australian Research and Development InstituteHenley BeachAustralia

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