Trophic Ecology of a Predatory Community in a Shallow-Water, High-Salinity Estuary

paperPublished online on 16. March 2016

Trophic Ecology of a Predatory Community in a Shallow-Water, High-Salinity Estuary Assessed by Stable Isotope Analysis

Ashley L. Shaw, Bryan S. Frazier, John R. Kucklick, Gorka Sancho


Estuaries serve as habitats and nurseries for many recreationally and commercially important fishes, often contributing recruits to adult populations that remain in close proximity to estuarine environments. Upper-level predatory fish species are among the most sought after by fisheries; thus, an understanding of the trophic dynamics of the community can assist ecological fisheries management of these highly productive ecosystems. Dietary niche overlap within the predatory fish community of Bulls Bay, a subtropical estuary in South Carolina, was assessed by using stable isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N) to compare seven elasmobranch species and three teleost species. Cownose Rays Rhinoptera bonasus and Finetooth Sharks Carcharhinus isodon had no isotopic overlap with other species and therefore exhibited unique isotopic niche spaces that were indicative of potential resource partitioning. The teleosts and remaining elasmobranchs had varying degrees of overlap, implying shared resources; a high degree of dietary niche overlap was observed among Spotted Seatrout Cynoscion nebulosus, Sandbar Sharks Carcharhinus plumbeus, and Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks Rhizoprionodon terraenovae. Although most pairs of species showed some isotopic overlap, there were also interspecific differences in niche overlap, signifying that this predatory fish community has a widely varied prey base overall. Bulls Bay is an important nursery habitat with a balanced predator community, as illustrated by a combination of unique dietary niches and varying degrees of dietary niche overlap.

Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science
Volume 8, Issue 1, 2016, DOI: 10.1080/19425120.2015.1121940



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