Secondary predation constrains DNA-based diet reconstruction in two threatened shark species

Published on
15 September 2021

Secondary predation constrains DNA-based diet reconstruction in two threatened shark species

Mark de Bruyn, Matteo Barbato, Joseph D. DiBattista, Matt K. Broadhurst


Increasing fishing effort, including bycatch and discard practices, are impacting marine biodiversity, particularly among slow-to-reproduce taxa such as elasmobranchs, and specifically sharks. While some fisheries involving sharks are sustainably managed, collateral mortalities continue, contributing towards > 35% of species being threatened with extinction. To effectively manage shark stocks, life-history information, including resource use and feeding ecologies is pivotal, especially among those species with wide-ranging distributions. Two cosmopolitan sharks bycaught off eastern Australia are the common blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus; globally classified as Near Threatened) and great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran; Critically Endangered). We opportunistically sampled the digestive tracts of these two species (and also any whole prey; termed the ‘Russian-doll’ approach), caught in bather-protection gillnets off northern New South Wales, to investigate the capacity for DNA metabarcoding to simultaneously determine predator and prey regional feeding ecologies. While sample sizes were small, S. mokkaran fed predominantly on stingrays and skates (Myliobatiformes and Rajiformes), but also teleosts, while C. limbatus mostly consumed teleosts. Metabarcoding assays showed extensive intermixing of taxa from the digestive tracts of predators and their whole prey, likely via the predator’s stomach chyme, negating the opportunity to distinguish between primary and secondary predation. This Russian-doll effect requires further investigation in DNA metabarcoding studies focussing on dietary preferences and implies that any outcomes will need to be interpreted concomitant with traditional visual approaches.

Sci Rep 11, 18350 (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-96856-w


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