Food Web Reconstruction Gives Evidence of Increased Trophic Levels in No-Trawl Areas: the Red Mullet, Mullus barbatus L. Case in Northern Sicily

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Abstract

This study was aimed at identifying the food web of the red mullet, Mullus barbatusin order to understand how it is affected by trawling disturbance. To achievethis objective: a) the main features of the red mullet habitat were investigated; b) thefood web of this habitat was studied in two no-trawl areas and in two areas open totrawling.The working hypothesis is that trawling affects the biochemistry of the sediment andthe trophic structure of the benthic assemblage. It was predicted: a) less biomass,smaller size and higher production rate in the benthic assemblages of protected gulfs;b) higher average trophic level for both the red mullet and its predators in protectedgulfs; c) a diet shift driven by the mechanical disturbance of trawling.The results achieved confirmed our hypotheses and allowed us to characterize forthe first time the trophic web structure in the red mullet habitat in the study area.Results also allowed us to compare the trophic level of red mullet of different sizesusing two independent techniques, stable isotopes of nitrogen and gut contents. Theaverage trophic level of the red mullet was higher and the energy consumption perunit of biomass larger in the protected gulfs. Species with a trophic level higher thanthe red mullet and therefore its potential predators were few and the most importantwere the white grouper, Epinephelus aeneus, the pandora, Pagellus erythrinus andthe common torpedo, Torpedo torpedo.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMarine Research at CNR, Marine Ecology
Pages39-47
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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