, Volume 736, Issue 1, pp 99–114 | Cite as

Diet composition, feeding niche partitioning and trophic organisation of large pelagic predatory fishes in the eastern Arabian Sea

  • Sijo P. Varghese
  • V. S. Somvanshi
  • Rishikesh S. Dalvi
Primary Research Paper


Information on the ecology and feeding behaviour of the large oceanic predatory fishes is crucial for the ecosystem approaches to fisheries management models. Co-existing large pelagic predators in the open oceans may avoid competition for the limited forage by resource partitioning on spatial, temporal or trophic levels. To test this, we studied the prey species composition, diet overlap, trophic level, and trophic organisation of 12 large predatory fishes co-existing in the eastern Arabian Sea. Stomach contents of 1,518 specimens caught by exploratory longline operations in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone during the years 2006–2009 were analysed. Finfishes were dominant prey of all species except blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), which fed mainly on cephalopods, and long-snouted lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox) and pelagic stingray (Pteroplatytrygon violacea), which fed mainly on crustaceans. Common dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) and yellowfin tuna fed on a wider variety of prey than the other species, while the diets of lancetfish and black marlin (Istiompax indica) were narrowest. Pelagic stingray and great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) fed on species occupying epipelagic waters, whereas the contribution of mesopelagic prey was higher in the diets of swordfish (Xiphias gladius) and pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus). Trophic levels of these fishes ranged from 4.13 to 4.37. Diet overlap index revealed that some of the large pelagic predatory fishes share common prey species. Cluster analysis of the diets revealed four distinct trophic guilds namely ‘flyingfish feeders’ (common dolphinfish and great barracuda); ‘mesopelagic predators’ (pelagic thresher and swordfish); ‘crab feeders’ (lancetfish, pelagic stingray and silky shark) and ‘squid feeders’ (yellowfin tuna, Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), black marlin and blue marlin). Large predatory fishes of the eastern Arabian Sea target different prey types, and limit their vertical extent and time of feeding to avoid competing for prey.


Diet breadth Trophic level Diet overlap Cluster analysis Trophic guild 



We are thankful to the Director General, Fishery Survey of India for providing necessary facilities for conducting this study. We thank the scientist participants, skippers and crew of the longline survey vessels and shore staff of the Fishery Survey of India for assisting in the sample collection and for assistance in the laboratory work. Useful discussions with Dr. K. Vijayakumaran, Dr. N. G. K. Pillai, Dr. M. E. John and Dr. Santhamma Varghese are gratefully acknowledged. We are also thankful to the anonymous referees for their valuable comments and suggestions to help us improve this manuscript.

Supplementary material

10750_2014_1895_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (797 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 798 kb)


  1. Abdurahiman, K. P., T. H. Nayak, P. U. Zacharia & K. S. Mohamed, 2010. Trophic organisation and predator–prey interactions among commercially exploited demersal finfishes in the coastal waters of the southeastern Arabian Sea. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 87: 601–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balasubramanian, C. P. & C. Suseelan, 1998. Natural diet of the deep water crab Charybdis smithii McLeay (Brachyura: Portunidae) of the seas around India. Indian Journal of Fisheries 45: 407–411.Google Scholar
  3. Berg, O., 1979. Discussion of methods of investigating the food of fishes with reference to preliminary study of the prey of Gobiusculus flavescens (Gobiidae). Marine Biology 50: 263–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bray, J. R. & J. T. Curtis, 1957. An ordination of the upland forest communities of Southern Winscosin. Ecological Monographs 27: 325–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chambers, C. A. & T. A. Dick, 2005. Trophic structure of one deep-sea benthic fish community in the eastern Canadian Arctic: application of food, parasites and multivariate analysis. Environmental Biology of Fishes 74(3–4): 365–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chancollon, O., C. Pusineri & V. Ridoux, 2006. Food and feeding ecology of Northeast Atlantic swordfish (Xiphias gladius) off the Bay of Biscay. ICES Journal of Marine Science 63: 1075–1085.Google Scholar
  7. Chesalin, M. V. & G. V. Zuyev, 2002. Pelagic cephalopods of the Arabian Sea with emphasis on Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis. Bulletin of Marine Science 71(1): 209–221.Google Scholar
  8. Choy, C. A. & J. C. Drazen, 2013. Plastic for dinner? observations of frequent debris ingestion by pelagic predatory fishes from the central North Pacific. Marine Ecology Progress Series 485: 155–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Choy, C. A., E. Portner, M. Iwane & J. C. Drazen, 2013. The diets of five important predatory mesopelagic fishes of the central North Pacific. Marine Ecology Progress Series 492: 169–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Christensen, V. & C. J. Walters, 2004. Ecopath with Ecosim: methods, capabilities and limitations. Ecological Modelling 172: 109–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clarke, K. R. & R. M. Warwick, 2001. Changes in marine communities: an approach to statistical analysis and interpretation, 2nd ed. PRIMER-E, Plymouth.Google Scholar
  12. Cortés, E., 1997. A critical review of methods of studying fish feeding based on analysis of stomach contents: application to elasmobranch fishes. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 54: 726–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dambacher, J. M., J. W. Young, R. J. Olson, V. Allain, F. Galván-Magaña, M. J. Lansdell, N. Bocanegra-Castillo, V. AlatorreRamírez, S. P. Cooper & L. M. Duffy, 2010. Analyzing pelagic food webs leading to top predators in the Pacific Ocean: a graph-theoretic approach. Progress in Oceanography 86: 152–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dragovich, A., 1970. The food of skipjack and yellowfin tunas in the Atlantic Ocean. Fishery Bulletin 68: 445–460.Google Scholar
  15. Froese, R. & D. Pauly (eds). 2013. FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, version (08/2013). Accessed 1 Sept 2013.
  16. Garcia, S. M. & J. I. De Leiva Moreno, 2005. Evolution of the state of fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic within a precautionary framework, 1970–2003: a synoptic evaluation. ICES Journal of Marine Science 62: 1603–1608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gotelli, N. J. & G. L. Entsminger, 2004. EcoSim: null models software for ecology. Version 7. Acquired Intelligence Inc. & Kesey-Bear. Jericho. http://garyentsminger.com/ecosim/index.htm. Accessed 1 Sept 2013.
  18. Haedrich, R. L. & J. G. Nielsen, 1966. Fishes eaten by Alepisaurus (Pisces, Iniomi) in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Deep Sea Research 13: 909–919.Google Scholar
  19. Horn, H. S., 1966. Measurement of “overlap” in comparative ecological studies. American Naturalist 100: 419–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. John, M. E. & B. C. Varghese, 2009. Decline in CPUE of oceanic sharks in the Indian EEZ: urgent need for precautionary approach. IOTC–2009–WPEB–17.Google Scholar
  21. Krebs, C. J., 1999. Ecological methodology, Ver. 5.1. Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.Google Scholar
  22. Krebs, C. J., 2001. Ecology. Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  23. Kubota, T., 1990. Synthetic materials found in the stomachs of longnose lancetfish collected from Suruga Bay, Central Japan. In Shomura, R. S., & M. L. Godfrey (eds), Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Marine Debris, 2-7 April 1989. NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC-154, Honolulu: 710–717.Google Scholar
  24. Langton, R. W., 1982. Diet overlap between the Atlantic cod Gadus morhua, silver hake, Merluccius bilinearis and fifteen other northwest Atlantic finfish. Fishery Bulletin 80: 745–759.Google Scholar
  25. Legler, N. D., T. B. Johnson, D. D. Heath & S. A. Ludsin, 2010. Water temperature and prey size effects on the rate of digestion of larval and early juvenile fish. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 139(3): 868–875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lin, H. J., K. T. Shao, S. R. Kuo, H. L. Hsieh, S. L. Wong, I. M. Chen, W. T. Lo & J. J. Hung, 1999. A trophic model of a sandy barrier lagoon at Chiku in Southwestern Taiwan. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 48: 575–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Link, J., J. K. T. Brodziak, S. F. Edwards, W. J. Overholtz, D. Mountain, J. W. Jossi, T. D. Smith & M. J. Fogarty, 2002. Marine ecosystem assessment in a fisheries management context. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 59: 1429–1440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lipskaya, N. Y., 1987. Feeding of flyingfish (Exocoetidae) larvae and fingerlings in the region of the Peruvian upwelling. Journal of Ichthyology 27: 108–116.Google Scholar
  29. Livingston, P. A., 1993. Importance of predation by groundfish, marine mammals and birds on walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma and Pacific herring Clupea pallasi in the eastern Bering Sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 102: 205–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Manooch, C. S., D. L. Mason & R. S. Nelson, 1984. Food and gastrointestinal parasites of dolphin Coryphaena hippurus collected along the southeastern and gulf coasts of the United States. Bulletin of Japanese Society of Fisheries Oceanography 50: 1511–1525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Matthews, F. D., D. M. Damkaer, L. W. Knapp & B. B. Colette, 1977. Food of western north Atlantic tunas (Thunnus) and lancetfishes (Alepisaurus). NOAA Technical Report NMFS SSRF 706: 1–19.Google Scholar
  32. Mazur, M. M., M. T. Wilson, A. B. Dougherty, A. Buchheister & D. A. Beauchamp, 2007. Temperature and prey quality effects on growth of juvenile walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma (Pallas): a spatially explicit bioenergetics approach. Journal of Fish Biology 70(3): 816–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nakamura, E. L., 1965. Food and feeding habits of skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) from the Marquesas and Tuamotu Islands. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 94: 236–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nelson, G. A. & M. R. Ross, 1995. Gastric evacuation in little skate. Journal of fish biology 46(6): 977–986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nesis, K. N., 1987. Cephalopods of the World; Squids, Cuttlefishes, Octopuses, and Allies. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City.Google Scholar
  36. Olson, R. J. & F. Galván-Magaña, 2002. Food habits and consumption rates of common dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Fishery Bulletin 100: 279–298.Google Scholar
  37. Orlov, A. M., 2004. Trophic interrelations in predatory fishes of Pacific waters circumambient the northern Kuril Islands and southeastern Kamchatka. Hydrobiological Journal 40: 106–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Oxenford, H. A. & W. Hunte, 1999. Feeding habits of the dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) in the eastern Caribbean. Scientia Marina 63: 303–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Papastamatiou, Y. P., B. M. Wetherbee, C. G. Lowe & G. L. Crow, 2006. Distribution and diet of four species of carcharhinid shark in the Hawaiian Islands: evidence for resource partitioning and competitive exclusion. Marine Ecology Progress Series 320: 239–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pauly, D. & V. Christensen, 1995. Primary production required to sustain global fisheries. Nature 374(6519): 255–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pauly, D. & M. L. Palomares, 2005. Fishing down marine food webs: it is far more pervasive than we thought. Bulletin of Marine Science 76(2): 197–211.Google Scholar
  42. Pauly, D., V. Christensen, J. Dalsgaard, R. Froese & F. Torres, 1998. Fishing down marine food webs. Science 279: 860–863.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pauly, D., V. Christensen, S. Guénette, T. J. Pitcher, U. R. Sumaila, C. J. Walters, R. Watson & D. Zeller, 2002. Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature 418: 689–695.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Peterson, B. J. & B. Fry, 1987. Stable isotopes in ecosystem studies. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 18: 293–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pinkas, L., M. S. Oliphant & L. R. Iverson, 1971. Food habits of albacore, bluefin tuna, and bonito in California waters. Fishery Bulletin 152: 1–105.Google Scholar
  46. Potier, M., F. Marsac, V. Lucas, R. Sabatié, J. P. Hallier & F. Ménard, 2004. Feeding partitioning among tuna taken in surface and mid-water layers: the case of yellowfin (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye (T. obesus) in the western tropical Indian Ocean. Western Indian Ocean Journal of Marine Science 3: 51–62.Google Scholar
  47. Potier, M., F. Marsac, Y. Cherel, V. Lucas, R. Sabatié, O. Maury & F. Ménard, 2007. Forage fauna in the diet of three large pelagic fishes (lancetfish, swordfish and yellowfin tuna) in the western equatorial Indian Ocean. Fisheries Research 83: 60–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pusineri, C., O. Chancollon, J. Ringelstein & V. Ridoux, 2008. Feeding niche segregation among the Northeast Atlantic community of oceanic top predators. Marine Ecology Progress Series 361: 21–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rohit, P., G. S. Rao & K. Rammohan, 2010. Feeding strategies and diet composition of yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares (Bonnaterre, 1788) caught along Andhra Pradesh, east coast of India. Indian Journal of Fisheries 57: 13–19.Google Scholar
  50. Romanov, E., M. Potier, V. Zamorov & F. Ménard, 2009. The swimming crab Charybdis smithii: distribution, biology and trophic role in the pelagic ecosystem of the western Indian Ocean. Marine Biology 156(6): 1089–1107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Romanov, E., P. Bach, N. Rabearisoa, N. Rabehagasoa, T. Filippi & N. Romanova, 2010. Pelagic elasmobranch diversity and abundance in the Indian Ocean: an analysis of long-term trends from research and fisheries longline data; IOTC-2010-WPEB-16.Google Scholar
  52. Romanov, E. V. & V. V. Zamorov, 2007. Regional feeding patterns of the longnose lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox Lowe, 1833) of the western Indian Ocean. Western Indian Ocean Journal of Marine Science 6: 37–56.Google Scholar
  53. Rudershausen, P. J., J. A. Buckel, J. Edwards, D. P. Gannon, C. M. Butler & T. W. Averett, 2010. Feeding ecology of blue marlins, dolphinfish, yellowfin tuna, and wahoos from the North Atlantic Ocean and comparisons with other Oceans. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 139: 1335–1359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sturdevant, M. V., J. A. Orsi & E. A. Fergusson, 2012. Diets and trophic linkages of epipelagic fish predators in coastal Southeast Alaska during a period of warm and cold climate years, 1997–2011. Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science 4: 526–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tokeshi, M., 1991. Graphical analysis of predator feeding strategy and prey importance. Freshwater Forum 1: 179–183.Google Scholar
  56. Ulanowicz, R. E., 2004. Quantitative methods for ecological network analysis. Computational Biology and Chemistry 28: 321–339.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Varghese, S. P., A. Tiburtius, K. Vijayakumaran, Premchand & D. K. Gulati, 2011. Interannual and geographic variations in the abundance indices of yellowfin tuna, billfishes and sharks in the Indian EEZ. IOTC-2011-WPTT13-18.Google Scholar
  58. Varghese, S. P., V. S. Somvanshi, M. E. John & R. S. Dalvi, 2013a. Diet and consumption rates of common dolphinfish, Coryphaena hippurus, in the eastern Arabian Sea. Journal of Applied Ichthyology 9: 1022–1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Varghese, S. P., V. S. Somvanshi & D. K. Gulati, 2013b. Ontogenetic and seasonal variations in the feeding ecology of Indo-Pacific sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus (Shaw, 1792) of the eastern Arabian Sea. Indian Journal of (Geo) Marine Sciences 42(5): 593–605.Google Scholar
  60. Walters, C., V. Christensen & D. Pauly, 1997. Structuring dynamic models of exploited ecosystems from trophic mass-balance assessments. Review in Fish Biology and Fisheries 7: 139–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Watanabe, H., T. Kubodera & K. Yokawa, 2009. Feeding ecology of the swordfish Xiphias gladius in the subtropical region and transition zone of the western North Pacific. Marine Ecology Progress Series 396: 111–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Young, J. W., J. L. Matt, R. A. Campbell, S. P. Cooper, F. Juanes & M. A. Guest, 2010. Feeding ecology and niche segregation in oceanic top predators off eastern Australia. Marine Biology 157(11): 2347–2368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zuyev, G., C. Nigmatullin, M. Chesalin & K. Nesis, 2002. Main results of long-term worldwide studies on tropical nektonic oceanic squid genus Sthenoteuthis: an overview of the Soviet investigations. Bulletin of Marine Science 71: 1019–1060.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sijo P. Varghese
    • 1
  • V. S. Somvanshi
    • 2
    • 3
  • Rishikesh S. Dalvi
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Cochin Base of Fishery Survey of IndiaKochiIndia
  2. 2.Fishery Survey of IndiaMumbaiIndia
  3. 3.MumbaiIndia
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyMaharshi Dayanand CollegeMumbaiIndia

Personalised recommendations