Diet and trophic ecology of the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) from South African waters

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Abstract

© 2017 Dicken et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Knowledge of the diet and trophic ecology of apex predators is key for the implementation of effective ecosystem as well as species-based management initiatives. Using a combination of stomach content data and stable isotope analysis (δ 15 N and δ 13 C) the current study provides information on size-based and sex-specific variations in diet, trophic position (TP) and foraging habitat of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) caught in the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board bather protection program. This study presents the longest time-series and most detailed analysis of stomach content data for G. cuvier worldwide. Prey identified from 628 non-empty stomachs revealed a size-based shift in diet. Reptiles, birds, mysticetes, and large shark species increased in dietary importance with G. cuvier size, concomitant with a decrease in smaller prey such as batoids and teleosts. Seasonal and decadal shifts in diet driven primarily by changes in the importance of elasmobranchs and mammal (cetacean) prey were recorded for medium sized (150-220 cm) G. cuvier. Both stomach content and stable isotope analysis indicated that G. cuvier is a generalist feeder at the population level. Size-based δ 13 C profiles indicated a movement to offshore foraging habitats by larger G. cuvier. Calculated TP varied by method ranging from 4.0 to 5.0 (TP SCA for stomach contents) and from 3.6 to 4.5 (TP scaled and TP additive for δ 15 N). Large ( > 220 cm) G. cuvier did not feed at discrete trophic levels, but rather throughout the food web. These data provide key information on the ecological role of G. cuvier to improve the accuracy of regional food web modelling. This will enable a better understanding of the ecological impacts related to changes in the abundance of this predator.

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DIcken, M. L., Hussey, N. E., Christiansen, H. M., Smale, M. J., Nkabi, N., Cliff, G., & Wintner, S. P. (2017). Diet and trophic ecology of the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) from South African waters. PLoS ONE, 12(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0177897

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