Food Habits of Large Nektonic Fishes: Trophic Linkages in Delaware Bay and the Adjacent Ocean

K. W. Able, J. M. Morson, D. A. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fish diets play a critical role in our understanding of aquatic trophic dynamics and are an important component in developing ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. Although large nektonic fishes exert top-down predator effects on the food web and typically support viable commercial and recreational fisheries, little is known about the diet of this guild. We evaluated the diets (6327 stomachs) of four nektonic predatory fishes (Pomatomus saltatrix [78–395 mm], Cynoscion regalis [91–520 mm], Morone americana [156–361 mm], and Morone saxatilis [82–785 mm]) in Delaware Bay and in the adjacent ocean. To assess ontogenetic, geographic, and interspecific variation in diets, observations from individual fish stomachs were clustered into species-size class groups, and dietary overlap was estimated using multivariate analyses. A shift in diet composition, as well as diversity, occurred along the estuarine gradient and into the adjacent ocean. Some prey were shared by most predators, including some crustaceans (dominated by Callinectes sapidus, mysids, and Palaemonetes spp.), fundulids (dominated by Fundulus heteroclitus), engraulids (dominated by Anchoa mitchilli), and clupeids (dominated by Brevoortia tyrannus). However, inter- and intra-specific variation in diet was observed as well. In particular, M. americana consumed fewer engraulids and clupeids, and many more and diverse types of invertebrates, while P. saltatrix consumed more clupeids and less invertebrates. The lack of overlap in diet between the four predators evaluated, and between size groups for each predator, supports previous evidence that these groups feed in trophic guilds defined by species and by size within a species. The highly variable diets for these predators suggest high resolution spatial data are necessary in order to quantify their most important prey and their role in coastal ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)866-883
Number of pages18
JournalEstuaries and Coasts
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


  • Delaware Bay
  • Diet
  • Estuary
  • Fishes
  • Ocean
  • Predators
  • Trophodynamics

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