Isotopic trajectories and interspecific niche partitioning in tropical pelagic sharks

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Global Ecology and Conservation

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Eastern Pacific Ocean, Feeding strategy, Isotopic niche, Niche partitioning, Stable isotopes, Turnover rates




Pelagic sharks are top predators with key role in the structure and functioning of ocean ecosystems. However, little is known on their assemblage-wide trophic ecology. Specifically, fundamental data gaps exist over how trophic niches of pelagic sharks diverge both intra- and inter-specifically. To address this question, multi-tissue stable isotope analysis is a powerful tool that enables the quantification of trophic dynamics of mobile predators throughout ontogeny and across species. In this study, we utilized stable isotope analysis of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) of tissues with varying turnover rates (muscle, red blood cells, liver, and plasma) to assess individual niche trajectories (i.e., temporal isotopic variation), population isotopic niche width, and isotopic niche overlap across five shark species (n = 155) in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean: silky (Carcharhinus falciformis), blue (Prionace glauca), smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), bigeye thresher (Alopias superciliosus), and the pelagic thresher shark (A. pelagicus). Overall, the relationship between isotopic niche trajectory length and body size was not significant, indicating that the magnitude of ontogenetic dietary variation does not increase in larger individuals. Pelagic sharks had variable feeding strategies over short-long time scales, likely reflecting species-specific responses to seasonality of prey availability and foraging location. Observed interspecific differences in isotope values indicate a degree of trophic niche partitioning across the five pelagic shark species. These data suggest ontogenetic niche shifts in pelagic sharks potentially differ from more coastal tied species and reveal species-specific ecological roles, but further studies on the diet and fine-scale habitat use are required to verify these results.