Trophic ecology of reef sharks determined using stable isotopes and telemetry

C. W. Speed, M. G. Meekan, I. C. Field, C. R. McMahon, K. Abrantes, C. J A Bradshaw

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    65 Citations (Scopus)


    Establishing the ecological role of predators within an ecosystem is central to understanding community dynamics and is useful in designing effective management and conservation strategies. We analysed differences in the trophic ecology of four species of reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, Triaenodon obesus and Negaprion acutidens) at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, by analysing tissue stable isotopes (δ 15N and δ 13C). We also monitored animals using acoustic telemetry to determine long-term residency patterns in a bay at the southern end of the reef, Coral Bay. Overall, mean δ 13C was similar among species, ranging between -10.9 and -11.8‰, suggesting a food-web dependency on coastal producers. Classification and regression tree analysis identified an effect of species on δ 15N that separated C. amblyrhynchos and C. melanopterus from N. acutidens and T. obesus. For C. amblyrhynchos and C. melanopterus, animals were also divided by size classes, with smaller sharks having lower average δ 15N than larger animals; this suggests that δ 15N increases with size for these two species. Juvenile C. melanopterus, juvenile N. acutidens and adult T. obesus had trophic levels of 3.7, for juvenile C. amblyrhynchos and adult C. melanopterus it was 4, and adult C. amblyrhynchos had a value of 4.3. Trophic-level estimates for C. melanopterus and C. amblyrhynchos corroborate previous conclusions based on diet studies. We found no evidence for a difference in isotopic composition between resident and non-resident sharks. The lack of variation in isotopic composition was consistent with high mean residency of these species recorded using acoustic telemetry, which was 79% (±0.09 SE) of days monitored for T. obesus, followed by N. acutidens (57 ± 19.55%), C. amblyrhynchos (54 ± 13%) and C. melanopterus (33 ± 8.28%). High δ 13C composition in reef sharks and long-term residency behaviour suggest that coastal marine reserves might provide effective conservation refuges for some species.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)357-367
    Number of pages11
    JournalCoral Reefs
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


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