Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 435–448 | Cite as

Patterns of resource use and isotopic niche overlap among three species of sharks occurring within a protected subtropical estuary

  • Austin J. GallagherEmail author
  • David S. Shiffman
  • Evan E. Byrnes
  • C. M. Hammerschlag-Peyer
  • N. Hammerschlag


Predation is one of the most fundamental and unifying concepts in ecology, and we are beginning to obtain a more complete understanding of how predators drive community structure and ecosystem function through their impacts on prey. We know considerably less about how predators affect each other through intraguild interactions, which is surprising considering predators often occur simultaneously and may compete for resources while avoiding being killed themselves. In the present study, we examined aspects of inter- and intra-specific resource use among three species of large-bodied predatory sharks (blacktip, bull, lemon) co-occurring within a subtropical, protected bay in the southeastern USA. Specifically, we inferred relative trophic position, isotopic niche overlap, and patterns of resource use of sharks using stable isotope analysis of carbon-13 and nitrogen-15 from blood and fin cartilage samples. We also combined these approaches with estimates of abundance and occurrence from empirical shark surveys to consider whether these species may exhibit resource partitioning in space and time. We found that all three species overlapped in space, and there was some isotopic niche overlap between the species. We also found evidence of temporal isotopic niche stability, suggesting that co-occurring shark species may compete for available prey resources, but individuals of those species may have similar patterns of resource use over time. We discuss our findings as they relate to the ecologies of the species in question and how sound conservation and management of ecosystems can allow for predator diversity, sympatry, and stable use of resources at the top of the food chain.


Feeding Intraguild Partitioning Predation risk Predator Shark 



We are grateful for the field support provided by D. Lazarre, V. Ansaldi, C. Shepard, as well as the rest of the interns and staff from the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the University of Miami. We also thank L. Sternburg for his assistance during laboratory assays. We thank C. Rohner and P. Prebble for their constructive comments on this submission. This work was supported by the Batchelor Foundation Inc., the Disney Conservation Fund, and the University of Miami Citizen’s Board. All of the work here conformed to the legal requirements in the USA and was permitted and conducted under the Everglades National Park Permit (EVER-2011-SCI-0012), and the University of Miami Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (Protocol # 09–187).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest, and all authors gave consent.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Beneath the Waves, Inc.MiamiUSA
  3. 3.Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and PolicyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  5. 5.Science DepartmentPalmer Trinity SchoolMiamiUSA

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