Comparative analysis of feeding habits and dietary niche breadth in skates: the importance of body size, snout length, and depth
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Skates (Elasmobranchii, Rajiformes) are a morphologically conservative group of bentophagous chondrichthyan fishes with a high degree of endemism, that occur on marine soft bottoms. Subtle morphological aspects and bathymetric distribution are traits that vary among skate species that could have implications for their feeding ecology. We test how body size, snout length and bathymetric distribution influence the feeding habits and dietary niche breadth in skates using data on 71 species taken from the literature. We hypothesized that snout length has an effect on diet composition. We also hypothesized that dietary niche breadth increases with increasing depth range and decreases with increasing body size of skate species. Generalized additive models for location scale and shape were fitted with taxonomic level (genera nested within family) included as a random effect term in each model. A model selection approach to test the level of support for alternative models was applied. We found that skate species that forage on large prey have the largest body size and skate species with the smallest body size prey on small and medium-sized invertebrates. The results indicated that body size has an effect on feeding habits of skates, whereas an effect of snout length was not supported. Bathymetric variables have an effect on the diet of skates. Our prediction that dietary niche breadth increases with increasing depth range and decreases with increasing body size of skate species was supported in part: in a first phase the relationship between dietary niche breadth and body size is positive, then in a second phase, including species larger than 1000 mm total length, the relationship become negative.
KeywordsElasmobranch fishes GAMLSS Levins’ standardized index Macroecology Rajiformes
We thank Nicholas K. Dulvy and Daniel Barrios-O’Neill for their suggestions and constructive comments as referees. This study was supported by Fondo para la Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (FONCyT) PICT 2014-0819.
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