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Trophic ecology of a predatory community in a shallow water high salinity estuary assessed by stable isotope analysis



Ashley Shaw, Brian Frazier, John Kucklick, Gorka Sancho


Estuaries serve as habitats and nurseries for many recreationally and commercially important fishes, often contributing recruits to adult populations that remain in close proximity to estuarine environments. Upper-level predatory fishes are among the most sought-after species, and understanding the trophic dynamics of the community can help with ecological fisheries management of these highly productive ecosystems. The dietary niche overlap of the predatory fish community in Bulls Bay (South Carolina, USA), a subtropical estuary typical of the Southeast US located in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, was assessed using stable isotope analyses (13C and 15N) comparing seven elasmobranch and three teleost species. Cownose rays and finetooth sharks had no isotopic overlap with other species, and therefore unique isotopic niche spaces, which indicates potential resource partitioning. The teleosts and remaining elasmobranchs had varying degrees of overlap implying shared resources, with a high degree of dietary niche overlap between spotted seatrout, sandbar sharks and Atlantic sharpnose sharks. Though there is some isotopic overlap between most species, there are also interspecific differences in niche overlap signifying that this predatory fish community as a whole has a widely varied prey base. Bulls Bay appears to be an important nursery habitat with a well-balanced predatory community as seen by a combination of unique or varying degrees of dietary niche.
Marine Ecology-Progress Series


Fisheries, ecology, stable isotope, South Carolina


Shaw, A. , Frazier, B. , Kucklick, J. and Sancho, G. (2016), Trophic ecology of a predatory community in a shallow water high salinity estuary assessed by stable isotope analysis, Marine Ecology-Progress Series, [online], (Accessed June 25, 2024)


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Created March 16, 2016, Updated August 12, 2022