This study investigated the feeding ecology of King George whiting Sillaginodes punctatus recruits to determine how diet composition varies between habitat types (seagrass and unvegetated habitats), and between sites separated by distance. Broad-scale sampling of seagrass and unvegetated habitats at nine sites in Port Phillip Bay (Australia) indicated the diet composition varied more by distance into the bay than by habitat. Near the entrance to the bay the diet was dominated by harpacticoids and gammarid amphipods, in the middle reaches of the bay the diet was completely dominated by harpacticoids, while at sites furthest into the bay, mysids and crab zoea were also important. Abundances of prey in guts was significantly higher between 1000 and 2200 hours compared with other times, indicating diurnal feeding. Laboratory determined gut evacuation rate (based on an exponential model) was estimated to be −0·54. Daily rations were highly variable among sites and habitat types. Sillaginodes punctatus recruits consumed much higher quantities of prey on unvegetated habitat than seagrass habitat at some middle reach sites; with prey consumption of harpacticoid copepods on unvegetated habitat approaching 3000 individuals per day at one site. The results of this study provide insight into why habitat associations of S. punctatus recruits within mosaics of seagrass and unvegetated habitat show high spatial variation.
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