Can measures of prey availability improve our ability to predict the abundance of large marine predators?

Oecologia. 2007 Sep;153(3):563-8. doi: 10.1007/s00442-007-0769-0. Epub 2007 Jun 5.


Apex marine predators can structure marine communities, so factors underlying their abundance are of broad interest. However, such data are almost completely lacking for large sharks. We assessed the relationship between tiger shark abundance, water temperature, and the availability of a variety of known prey over 5 years in Western Australia. Abundance of sharks in four size categories and the density of prey (cormorants, dugongs, sea snakes, sea turtles) were indexed using daily catch rates and transects, respectively. Across all sizes, thermal conditions were a determinant of abundance, with numerical peaks coinciding with periods of high water temperature. However, for sharks exceeding 300 cm total length, the inclusion of dugong density significantly improved temperature-based models, suggesting that use of particular areas by large tiger sharks is influenced by availability of this sirenian. We conclude that large marine predator population models may benefit from the inclusion of measures of prey availability, but only if such measures consider prey types separately and account for ontogenetic shifts in the diet of the predator in question.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dugong / physiology*
  • Food Chain*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Population Density
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Sharks / physiology*