Massive Consumption of Gelatinous Plankton by Mediterranean Apex Predators

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e31329. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031329. Epub 2012 Mar 21.

Abstract

Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen were used to test the hypothesis that stomach content analysis has systematically overlooked the consumption of gelatinous zooplankton by pelagic mesopredators and apex predators. The results strongly supported a major role of gelatinous plankton in the diet of bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus), spearfish (Tetrapturus belone) and swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the oceanic stage and ocean sunfish (Mola mola) also primarily relied on gelatinous zooplankton. In contrast, stable isotope ratios ruled out any relevant consumption of gelatinous plankton by bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), blue shark (Prionace glauca), leerfish (Lichia amia), bonito (Sarda sarda), striped dolphin (Stenella caerueloalba) and loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the neritic stage, all of which primarily relied on fish and squid. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) were confirmed as crustacean consumers. The ratios of stable isotopes in albacore (Thunnus alalunga), amberjack (Seriola dumerili), blue butterfish (Stromaeus fiatola), bullet tuna (Auxis rochei), dolphinfish (Coryphaena hyppurus), horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus), mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and pompano (Trachinotus ovatus) were consistent with mixed diets revealed by stomach content analysis, including nekton and crustaceans, but the consumption of gelatinous plankton could not be ruled out completely. In conclusion, the jellyvorous guild in the Mediterranean integrates two specialists (ocean sunfish and loggerhead sea turtles in the oceanic stage) and several opportunists (bluefin tuna, little tunny, spearfish, swordfish and, perhaps, blue butterfish), most of them with shrinking populations due to overfishing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbon Isotopes / chemistry
  • Diet*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / chemistry
  • Plankton / chemistry*
  • Stomach / chemistry

Substances

  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes