Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 100, Issue 4, pp 325–336 | Cite as

Gutsy genetics: identification of digested piscine prey items in the stomach contents of sympatric native and introduced warmwater catfishes via DNA barcoding

  • Robert Aguilar
  • Matthew B. Ogburn
  • Amy C. Driskell
  • Lee A. Weigt
  • Mary C. Groves
  • Anson H. Hines


A major focus of ecology is understanding trophic relationships and energy flows in natural systems, associated food web dynamics and changes in food webs due to introduced species. Predator-prey interactions are often assessed by examining stomach contents. However, partially digested remains may be difficult to accurately identify by traditional visual analysis. Here we evaluate the effectiveness of DNA barcoding to identify digested piscine prey remains in invasive Blue Catfish Ictalurus furcatus, non-native, but established Channel Catfish Ictalurus punctatus and native White Catfish Ameiurus catus from Chesapeake Bay, USA. Stomach contents were examined and piscine prey items were scored as lightly digested, moderately digested or severely digested. A 652 base pair region of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI-5P) mitochondrial DNA gene was sequenced for each prey item. Edited barcode sequences were compared to locally-caught and validated reference sequences in BOLD (Barcode of Life Database). A large majority of prey items were sufficiently digested to limit morphological identification (9.4 % to species and an additional 12.1 % to family). However, overall barcoding success was high (90.3 %) with little difference among the digestion classifications. Combining morphological and genetic identifications, we classified 91.6 % of fish prey items to species. Twenty-three fish species were identified, including species undergoing active restoration efforts (e.g., Alosa spp.) and commercially important species, e.g., Striped Bass Morone saxatilis, White Perch Morone americana, American Eel Anguilla rostrata and Menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus. We found DNA barcoding highly successful at identifying all but the most heavily degraded prey items and to be an efficient and effective method for obtaining diet information to strengthen the resolution of trophic analyses including diet comparisons among sympatric native and non-native predators.


Blue catfish Ictalurus furcatus Predation Clupeidae Chesapeake Bay Genetic analysis 



This project was conducted with funding support from NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office award #NA11NMF4570231, the Smithsonian Institution administered by the Secretariat Office of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, and the Laboratories of Analytical Biology of the National Museum of Natural History. We gratefully acknowledge Miranda Marvel, Brooke Weigel, Paige Roberts, Angela Owens, Keira Heggie, Mike Goodison, Kim Richie and Midge Kramer for assistance with SERC field collections and sample processing and Timothy Groves, Branson Williams and Ross Williams for MD DNR field collections and sample processing. We would also like to thank Dr. Paul J. Smith (University of Maryland) for his statistical guidance. Internships provided to MM, BW and AO were also funded by NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office award #NA11NMF4570231 and MO was partially funded by a Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) postdoctoral fellowship. This project was reviewed by SERC’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and all applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for humane animal care and use were followed. The manuscript was strengthened by comments from 3 anonymous peer reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (outside the USA) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Aguilar
    • 1
  • Matthew B. Ogburn
    • 1
  • Amy C. Driskell
    • 2
  • Lee A. Weigt
    • 2
  • Mary C. Groves
    • 3
  • Anson H. Hines
    • 1
  1. 1.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA
  2. 2.Laboratories of Analytical Biology, National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Inland FisheriesCedarville Fish HatcheryBrandywineUSA

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