Elasmobranchs are among the species most threatened by overfishing and a large body of evidence reports their decline around the world. As they are large predators occupying the highest levels of marine food webs, their removal can alter the trophic web dynamic through predatory release effects and trophic cascade. Suitable management of threatened shark species requires a good understanding of their behaviour and feeding ecology. In this study we provide one of the first assessments of the trophic ecology of the “vulnerable” smooth-hounds Mustelus mustelus and M. punctulatus in the Central Mediterranean Sea, based on stomach contents and stable isotope analyses. Ontogenetic diet changes were addressed by comparing the feeding habits of three groups of individuals: juveniles, maturing and adults. Our results highlighted that the two species share a similar diet based mostly on the consumption of benthic crustaceans (e.g. hermit crabs). Their trophic level increases during ontogeny, with adults increasing their consumption of large-sized crustaceans (e.g. Calappa granulata, Palinurus elephas), cephalopods (e.g. Octopus vulgaris) and fish (e.g. Trachurus trachurus). Our results provide also evidence of ontogenetic shifts in diet for both species showing a progressive reduction of interspecific trophic overlap during growth. The results of this study contribute to improve the current knowledge on the trophic ecology of these two threatened sharks in the Strait of Sicily, thus providing a better understanding of their role in the food web.
|Numero di pagine||15|
|Stato di pubblicazione||Published - 2020|