HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Tracey Sutton

Second Advisor

Christopher Blanar

Third Advisor

Tamara Frank


Mesopelagic (open ocean, 200-1000 m depth) fishes are important consumers of zooplankton and are prey of oceanic predators. Some mesopelagic fishes (e.g., myctophids and stomiids) undertake a diel vertical migration where they ascend to the near-surface waters during the night to feed and descend into the depths during the day to avoid predators. Other mesopelagic fishes (e.g., Sternoptyx spp.) do not vertically migrate and remain at deep depths throughout the day. While in the epipelagic zone (surface – 200 m depth), vertically migrating fishes become prey to upper-trophic level predators, such as: tunas and billfishes. Benthic fishes (e.g., macrourids) often vertically migrate as well, ascending into the pelagic zone to feed on pelagic organisms. Fishes of different depths and vertical migration habits likely have a different ecological role in food webs. The relationship between parasites and gut contents provides insights into ecological processes occurring within assemblages, as prey items are often vectors for parasites. This study examined the differences between the prey items present in the gastrointestinal cavity and parasites of 26 mesopelagic fish species in the Gulf of Mexico. Results showed that based on the proportionally dominant prey items per species, six different feeding guilds existed within this assemblage, five based on planktivory: copepodivores, predators of copepods and other zooplankton, predators of copepods and euphausiids, gelatinivores, generalists, crustacean decapodivores, and upper-trophic level predators. Larger fishes preyed on larger prey items and harbored more parasites. Sigmops elongatus exhibited an ontogenetic diet shift at 75 mm standard length, progressing from eating primarily copepods at small sizes to eating primarily euphausiids at large sizes. Compared to similar studies, this study revealed a higher parasitic infestation by trematodes, an endoparasite (parasite within the host) class often restricted to nearshore hosts, in Gulf of Mexico fishes. Helicometrina nimia, the dominant parasite of the gempylid Nealotus tripes, has not previously been recorded in hosts below 200 m depth, suggesting a foodweb pathway that transitions from nearshore to offshore. These data can be used to develop and refine models aimed at understanding ecosystem structure and connectivity.