Feeding ecology and niche segregation in oceanic top predators off eastern Australia

Research paper by Jock W. Young, Matt J. Lansdell, Robert A. Campbell, Scott P. Cooper, Francis Juanes, Michaela A. Guest

Indexed on: 08 Jul '10Published on: 08 Jul '10Published in: Marine Biology


We examined the feeding ecology and niche segregation of the ten most abundant fish species caught by longline operations off eastern Australia between 1992 and 2006. Diets of 3,562 individuals were examined. Hook timer data were collected from a further 328 fish to examine feeding behaviour in relation to depth and time of day. Prey biomass was significantly related to predator species, predator length and year and latitude of capture. Although the fish examined fed on a mix of fish, squid and crustacea, fish dominated the diet of all species except small albacore (Thunnus alalunga) which fed mainly on crustacea and large swordfish (Xiphias gladius) and albacore which fed mainly on squid. Cannibalism was observed in lancetfish (Alepisaurus spp.). Multidimensional scaling identified three species groups based on their diet composition. One group consisted of yellowfin tuna (T. albacares), striped marlin (Tetrapturus audax) and dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus); a second group consisted of bigeye tuna (T. obesus), swordfish and albacore; and a third consisted of southern bluefin tuna (T. maccoyii) and blue shark (Prionace glauca). Of note was the separation of mako shark (Isurus oxyrhynchus) and lancetfish from all other predators. Prey length generally increased with increasing predator length although even large predators fed on a wide range of prey lengths including very small prey. Overall, differences in prey type and size, feeding times and depths were noted across the range of species examined to the extent that predators with overlapping prey, either in type or size, fed at different times of the diel period or at different depths. Taken together these data provide evidence for feeding niche segregation across the range of oceanic top predators examined.