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- Diet Composition and Trophic Ecology of Northeast Pacific Ocean Sharks
- Although there is a general perception of sharks as large pelagic, apex predators, most sharks are smaller, meso- and upper-trophic level predators that are associated with the seafloor. Among 73 shark species documented in the eastern North Pacific (ENP), less than half reach maximum lengths > 200 cm, and 78% occur in demersal or benthic regions of the continental shelf or slope. Most small (≤ 200 cm) species (e.g., houndsharks) and demersal, nearshore juveniles of larger species (e.g., requiem sharks) consume small teleosts and decapod crustaceans, whereas large species in pelagic coastal and oceanic environments feed on large teleosts and squids. Several large, pelagic apex predator species occur in the ENP, but the largest species (i.e., Basking Shark, Whale Shark) consume zooplankton or small nekton. Size-based dietary variability is substantial for many species, and segregation of juvenile and adult foraging habitats also is common (e.g., Horn Shark, Shortfin Mako). Temporal dietary differences are most pronounced for temperate, nearshore species with wide size ranges, and least pronounced for smaller species in extreme latitudes and deep-water regions. Sympatric sharks often occupy various trophic positions, with resource overlap differing by space and time and some sharks serving as prey to other species. Most coastal species remain in the same general region over time and feed opportunistically on variable prey inputs (e.g., season migrations, spawning, or recruitment events), whereas pelagic, oceanic species actively seek hot spots of prey abundance that are spatiotemporally variable. The influence of sharks on ecosystem structure and regulation has been downplayed compared to that of large teleosts species with higher per capita consumption rates (e.g., tunas, billfishes). However, sharks also exert indirect influences on prey populations by causing behavioural changes that may result in restricted ranges and reduced fitness. Except for food web modelling efforts in Alaskan waters, the trophic impacts of sharks are poorly incorporated into current ecosystem approaches to fisheries management in the NEP.
- Bizzarro, Carlisle, Smith, Cortés