HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

David W. Kerstetter

Second Advisor

Amy C. Hirons

Third Advisor

Robert E. Hueter


The combined methods of stomach content analysis and stable 15N and 13C isotope biochemistry analysis were used to investigate the trophic dynamics and feeding ecology of coastal pelagic fishes in the waters off southeastern Florida, USA. The coastal pelagic fish complex includes blackfin tuna Thunnus atlanticus, dolphinfish Coryphaena hippurus, king mackerel Scomberomorus cavalla, little tunny Euthynnus alletteratus, skipjack tuna Katsuwonus pelamis, and wahoo Acanthocybium solandri. These coastal teleosts, particularly the tunas and wahoo, are primarily targeted by recreational anglers. However, there is a shortage of available trophic and diet composition data concerning these fishes of the coastal pelagic ecosystem. Stomach and muscle tissue samples were collected from the species of various lengths over a three-year period from March 2010 and March 2013. Across all six species, teleost fishes dominated the prey with an average 64.5% by occurrence, 63.7% by number, and 89.9% by weight. There were two dominant prey families: Clupeidae and Carangidae. Dolphinfish showed the lowest diet overlap among the six species, due to the highly diverse diet. The highest diet overlap occurred between king mackerel and little tunny. The mean δ15N ranged from 8.21 ‰ (wahoo) to 13.18 ‰ (king mackerel), and the mean δ13C ranged from -18.41 ‰ (king mackerel) to -16.70 ‰ (dolphinfish). Blackfin tuna exhibited the largest δ15N range (7.22 to 13.21 ‰), as well as the largest δ13C range (-19.13 to -12.99 ‰). The δ15N and δ13C signatures in the muscle tissue showed evidence of shifts to higher trophic levels with an increase in fish size and the formation of distinct trophic groups among the coastal pelagic predators. The δ13C also suggested an inshore-offshore spatial relationship among the coastal pelagic fish. The trophic dynamics and feeding ecology data generated by this study will provide valuable baseline data for the coastal pelagic complex and future ecosystem studies.

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