Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 842–856 | Cite as

Trophic Relationships and Niche Partitioning of Red Drum Sciaenops ocellatus and Common Snook Centropomus undecimalis in Coastal Estuaries of South Florida

  • Christopher MalinowskiEmail author
  • Julie Cavin
  • Jeffrey Chanton
  • Lia Chasar
  • Felicia Coleman
  • Christopher Koenig


Large marine predators occupying the same spatial arena exhibit a variety of temporal and behavioral differences to minimize competition for habitat and prey. Here, we examined two such species in the Florida Everglades, red drum Sciaenops ocellatus and snook Centropomus undecimalis, to evaluate niche separation based on diet and multiple stable isotope (white muscle, δ13C, δ15N, δ34S) analyses. For these two estuarine predators, our results indicated that although dietary niche overlap was broad, different feeding modes (spatial and behavioral) allow niche partitioning. The diet of red drum was dominated by pink shrimp Farfantepenaeus duorarum and other demersal species. For snook, although their diet included significant numbers of pink shrimp, it was largely dominated by pelagic and epibenthic fishes. Mean red drum δ13C signatures (− 10.5 to − 20.8‰) differed significantly between areas and were strongly correlated with both area-specific seagrass concentration and amount of incidental seagrass ingestion. Mean snook δ13C signatures were generally depleted (− 20.9 to − 22.4‰) with the exception of one area (− 14.1‰). Red drum and snook diet and mean δ15N signatures (10.1‰, 10.8‰, respectively) indicated they were both mid-trophic-level consumers. Mean red drum δ34S signatures were significantly depleted (− 0.31‰) in the seagrass-dominated area, but enriched (2.03 to 3.78‰) in the other areas and indicated benthic but no pelagic sources of primary production. Mean snook δ34S signatures varied widely (0 to 20‰) among areas suggesting dependence on benthic (benthic algae and seagrass) and pelagic (phytoplankton) sources of primary production.


Florida Bay Everglades National Park Stable isotopes Diet Spatial ecology Trophic ecology 



We thank Chris Peters (FSUCML) for making maps for this paper; G. Delgado (Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, FFWRI) and R. Taylor (formerly with FFWRI) for aging fish; T. Bevis (FSU) and J. Brusher, R. Allman, and S. Harter (National Marine Fisheries Service, Panama City) for technical assistance; T. Miller (FSU) for statistical guidance; and the late Thomas Schmidt (Everglades National Park) without whose help this study could not have been conducted. We acknowledge grants to FCC from the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service Cooperative Agreement No. CA5280-9-9001; and grants to JPC, CCK, and FCC from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA #01-7-WCA90051, NOAA 8WCA90031, NOAA #40WCNF901814) and NOAA’s South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Prediction and Modelling Program (NOAA-SFERPM #O-WCA-90035 and NOAA-SFERPM #01-O-WCA-90035).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florida State University Coastal and Marine LaboratorySt. TeresaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological ScienceTallahasseeUSA
  3. 3.Gulf World Marine ParkPanama City BeachUSA
  4. 4.Department of OceanographyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  5. 5.North WilkesboroUSA

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