Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 205–223 | Cite as

The importance of seahorses and pipefishes in the diet of marine animals

  • D. Kleiber
  • L. K. Blight
  • I. R. Caldwell
  • A. C. J. Vincent


A review of 135 accounts of predation on seahorses and pipefishes identified 82 predator species, with nine species of seahorses and 25 of pipefishes recorded as prey. These cryptic fishes were generally depredated in low numbers. Where syngnathids formed a high proportion of predator diets, predation occurred on (1) a single abundant species during a population boom or large die-off, (2) concentrations of individuals utilising floating marine vegetation, or (3) juveniles when abundant during the breeding season. Predation coinciding with high syngnathid densities suggests their predators are foraging opportunistically rather than targeting syngnathids as prey. Invertebrates, fishes, sea turtles, waterbirds and marine mammals were all syngnathid predators: these included taxa that do not frequent the demersal habitat generally occupied by seahorses and pipefishes. Thus, seahorses and pipefishes may be moving in the open ocean more than suspected, perhaps using floating mats of marine vegetation. If so, this behaviour could act as a hitherto unknown vector for syngnathid movement and dispersal. Information on syngnathid abundance in predator diet (measured as percent number, volume, or mass) was available in 45 reviewed accounts; in 27% (n = 12) of these studies seahorses or pipefishes comprised ≥20% of predator diet (range 0.005–100%). Frequency of occurrence (percent stomachs, seabird bill-loads, or regurgitations in which a prey item occurred) was provided in 39 accounts, with 15% (n = 6) of these recording a frequency of ≥20% (range 0.003–65%).


Marine food webs Predator–prey interactions Syngnathidae Hippocampus Crypsis Dispersal 



We thank the Seabird-L listserve members who responded to Mike Harris’s original request for information on snake pipefish in seabird diets, to Mike Harris himself for sharing offline responses, and to those who replied to our request for information via the Project Seahorse syngnathid listserve. Conversations with Mike Harris, Sarah Wanless and Keith Martin-Smith also provided insight into the E. aequoreus population boom and its effects on top predators, and comments by Iain Taylor and two anonymous reviewers improved the manuscript. This work was supported by a generous anonymous donation to fund DK, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada post-graduate awards (IRC and LKB), a Canadian Federation of University Women’s Dr. Alice E. Wilson award (LKB), and a Koerner Foundation fellowship (LKB). Project Seahorse is supported by Guylian Chocolates (Belgium) and the John G. Shedd Aquarium, through partnerships in marine conservation.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Kleiber
    • 1
  • L. K. Blight
    • 1
    • 2
  • I. R. Caldwell
    • 1
  • A. C. J. Vincent
    • 1
  1. 1.Project Seahorse, Fisheries CentreThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Applied Conservation ResearchThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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