Diet composition, feeding niche partitioning and trophic organisation of large pelagic predatory fishes in the eastern Arabian Sea

Research paper by Sijo P. Varghese, V. S. Somvanshi, Rishikesh S. Dalvi

Indexed on: 09 May '14Published on: 09 May '14Published in: Hydrobiologia


Information on the ecology and feeding behaviour of the large oceanic predatory fishes is crucial for the ecosystem approaches to fisheries management models. Co-existing large pelagic predators in the open oceans may avoid competition for the limited forage by resource partitioning on spatial, temporal or trophic levels. To test this, we studied the prey species composition, diet overlap, trophic level, and trophic organisation of 12 large predatory fishes co-existing in the eastern Arabian Sea. Stomach contents of 1,518 specimens caught by exploratory longline operations in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone during the years 2006–2009 were analysed. Finfishes were dominant prey of all species except blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), which fed mainly on cephalopods, and long-snouted lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox) and pelagic stingray (Pteroplatytrygon violacea), which fed mainly on crustaceans. Common dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) and yellowfin tuna fed on a wider variety of prey than the other species, while the diets of lancetfish and black marlin (Istiompax indica) were narrowest. Pelagic stingray and great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) fed on species occupying epipelagic waters, whereas the contribution of mesopelagic prey was higher in the diets of swordfish (Xiphias gladius) and pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus). Trophic levels of these fishes ranged from 4.13 to 4.37. Diet overlap index revealed that some of the large pelagic predatory fishes share common prey species. Cluster analysis of the diets revealed four distinct trophic guilds namely ‘flyingfish feeders’ (common dolphinfish and great barracuda); ‘mesopelagic predators’ (pelagic thresher and swordfish); ‘crab feeders’ (lancetfish, pelagic stingray and silky shark) and ‘squid feeders’ (yellowfin tuna, Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), black marlin and blue marlin). Large predatory fishes of the eastern Arabian Sea target different prey types, and limit their vertical extent and time of feeding to avoid competing for prey.