Metabarcoding confirms the opportunistic foraging behaviour of Atlantic bluefin tuna and reveals the importance of gelatinous prey.

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From: PeerJ(Vol. 9)
Publisher: PeerJ. Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 10,215 words
Lexile Measure: 1510L

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Abstract :

Studies of the diet, feeding habits and trophic activity of top marine predators are essential for understanding their trophodynamics. The main direct method used for such studies thus far has been morphological inventories of stomach contents. This approach presents limitations such as missing gelatinous prey, which are usually digested too quickly to be detectable. Here, we analysed the stomachs of 48 Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus, approximately 15 to 60 kg, including juveniles and adult fishes) collected from the Mediterranean Sea through the metabarcoding of two gene regions (cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and the ribosomal 18S-V1V2 region). The identified prey taxa and their relative read abundances (RRAs) estimated using COI results were in line with the findings of morphologically based inventories simultaneously performed on the same set of tuna samples. In both cases (and with the same rankings), the prey taxa included anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus, here detected in more than 80% of samples, RRA = 43%), sardine (Sardina pilchardus, also approximately 80%, RRA = 30%), sprat (Sprattus sprattus, approximately 66%, RRA = 8%), mackerel (Scomber colias, approximately 44%, RRA = 7%) and cephalopods (approximately 15%, RRA = 1.4%). Another striking result was the detection, based on 18S (with which vertebrates were detected as the most abundant group, RRA = 61.6%), of a high prevalence and diversity of gelatinous organisms (RRA = 27.1%), including cnidarians (6.7%), salps (11.7%), and ctenophores (8.7%), the latter increasing with the size of the predator. These results thus support the hypothesis of the role of gelatinous prey in the diet of Atlantic bluefin tuna, suggesting that this species is even more generalist and opportunistic than previously thought. This study further confirms that DNA metabarcoding can be a powerful tool for assessing the diet and trophodynamics of top marine predators.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A671901486