The feeding intensity and the diet of Merluccius merluccius were studied along a 1000 km latitudinal scale on the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula (western Mediterranean) in spring 2000. Merluccius merluccius was distributed along two bathymetric bands corresponding to the deep continental shelf (between 36 to 148 m), and the upper slope (between 215 to 310 m). At the shelf small crustaceans (mainly euphausiids and mysids) were dominant in the diet while fish (mainly Myctophidae) were the preferred prey on the slope. Feeding intensity of hake was significantly higher in areas with higher hake density suggesting feeding aggregations. Also, feeding intensity was significantly correlated with phytoplankton pigment concentrations (ppc), though only with ppc recorded one month before on the hake sampling stations. This delay between ppc and feeding intensity of hake may be a response to higher prey availability, because most hake prey were pelagic in origin (euphausiids, Clupeiformes) and they may reach high densities after exploiting local phytoplankton blooms. This delayed response seems to have more a local or spotted pattern. During three 8-h sampling cycles food consumed by hake ranged between 1.01 to 5.51% body wet weight (BWW), on average within the range of food consumption rates of other benthopelagic, active swimmer, fish.
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