Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 95, Issue 1, pp 115–126 | Cite as

Ontogenetic diet shifts and prey selection in nursery bound lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris, indicate a flexible foraging tactic

  • Steven P. Newman
  • Richard D. Handy
  • Samuel H. Gruber


Ontogenetic variations in shark diet are often qualitatively inferred from dietary analysis and hindered by high levels of unidentified prey or small sample sizes. This study focused on nursery bound lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris, n = 396), enabling some control over the confounding variables of prey choice associated with ontogeny. Nursery bound lemon sharks exhibited weak ontogenetic variation in dietary composition with high levels of dietary overlap. Variation in prey preference of lemon sharks with ontogeny was complex, but revealed a continuous shift from predominantly opportunistic benthic foraging as neonates to more selective piscivory with increasing shark size while in the nursery. Lemon sharks demonstrated a discrete ontogenetic shift in the number of prey consumed and stomach content weight (Kruskal-Wallis tests p < 0.01), as well as prey size (ANOVA, p < 0.001). All sizes of sharks exhibited positive size selection of prey (Mann–Whitney U tests, p < 0.01). However, the lack of size preference by all but the largest lemon sharks for their major prey (yellowfin mojarra, Gerres cinereus), suggests neonate sharks, while capable of occasionally foraging on large prey, are relatively inept opportunistic foragers. This was evident in high diet breadth, low diversity of consumed prey and lower trophic level than larger sharks. This study represents the first quantitative analysis of ontogenetic variation in prey preference and size selection in sharks, indicating a flexible foraging tactic in lemon sharks and the importance of hunting ability and predator size in prey choice.


Carcharhinidae Elasmobranch Learning Preference Size selection 



This study was supported in part by a studentship from the University of Plymouth (SPN), the Florida Department of Education (Grant 874-97030-00001, SHG), PADI project AWARE (SPN), and Bimini Biological Field Station and its supporters. We thank R. Mann and L. Hoover, The Greentweed Foundation, the Hoover Foundation, T. and T. Fujino, B. & T. Newman, N. and E. Phillips, S. and T. Daniels, and R. Rosenberg for generous private support. This work was carried out in collaboration with the Bimini Biological Field Station, Bahamas, under University of Miami’s Bahamian research permit (MAF/LIA/22). We acknowledge the key role of the Bimini Biological Field Station staff and volunteers for assistance with data collection, with special thanks to K. Parsons, D. McElroy, C. Hofmann. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the people of Bimini, and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas for allowing us to work in the controlled waters of the Bahamas. Ethical approval and permissions were in place for all procedures in accordance with the current laws of the Bahamas.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven P. Newman
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Richard D. Handy
    • 1
  • Samuel H. Gruber
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK
  2. 2.Bimini Biological Field StationBiminiBahamas
  3. 3.Division of Marine Biology and Fisheries, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  4. 4.School of Marine Science and TechnologyNewcastle UniversityNewcastleUK

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