The dietary compositions of three medium to large targeted fish species, which co-occur over reefs in temperate waters of south-western Australia, were determined. These data were then used to ascertain statistically the extent to which body size, season and habitat influence the diets of these species and the degree to which food resources were partitioned among and within those species, and thus reduced the potential of interspecific and intraspecific competition. On the west coast, Bodianus frenchii (Labridae) and Epinephelides armatus (Serranidae) spent their whole life over prominent limestone reefs, as did Glaucosoma hebraicum (Glaucosomatidae) in all but juvenile life, when it lived over low-relief, limestone substrata. The dietary composition of each species changed with increasing body size, which, in G. hebraicum, was particularly pronounced at c. 300 mm total length (L(T)) and therefore at the size when this species shifts habitat. When the three species co-occurred over the same reefs, their dietary compositions were significantly different, with that of B. frenchii being by far the most discrete, reflecting a far greater contribution by sedentary taxa. Thus, the diet of B. frenchii was distinguished from those of the other two species in containing substantial volumes of bivalve and gastropod molluscs and echinoid echinoderms and essentially no teleosts. Although the diets of G. hebraicum and particularly E. armatus were dominated by teleosts, and especially for larger individuals, the former species ingested greater volumes of cephalopods and small crustaceans. The pointed jaws of B. frenchii, with their forwardly directed and interlocking anterior incisors, are ideally adapted for biting and retaining their invertebrate prey, which are attached to or reside within reef crevices. In contrast, the mouths of G. hebraicum and E. armatus are broader and rounder and contain numerous small, slender and inward-pointing teeth. These teeth, in conjunction with prominent backward-curved canines in E. armatus, facilitate the capture and retention of fish prey. Observations in situ indicate that G. hebraicum is a suction feeder, while E. armatus is predominantly a ram feeder. Although reef environments on the west and south coasts differ, the diet of B. frenchii on these coasts differed only slightly. Interspecific differences in diet, combined with size-related changes in dietary compositions and the occupation of different habitats by juvenile and adult G. hebraicum, reduce the potential for competition for food resources among and within B. frenchii, G. hebraicum and E. armatus and thus helps facilitate the coexistence of these species which historically have been abundant over reefs in south-western Australia.
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