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Flyingfish feeding ecology in the eastern Pacific: prey partitioning within a speciose epipelagic community

Authors

  • J. E. Van Noord,

    Corresponding author
    • Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, La Jolla, CA 92037, U.S.A.
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  • E. A. Lewallen,

    1. Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, La Jolla, CA 92037, U.S.A.
    2. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, ON, M1C 1A4, Canada
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  • R. L. Pitman

    1. Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, La Jolla, CA 92037, U.S.A.
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed at present address: California Wetfish Producers Association, P. O. Box 1951, Buellton, CA 93427, U.S.A. Tel.: +1 858 784 1492; email: joel.van.noord@gmail.com

Abstract

To test the hypothesis that prey partitioning contributes to community stability in flyingfish, the gut contents of 359 flyingfish specimens (representing five genera and eight species within Exocoetidae and Hemiramphidae) were collected at 50 dip-net stations during hour-long night-time fishing in oceanic waters of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean between August and November 2007. Analyses using multidimensional scaling, and analysis of similarity revealed significant dietary differences among species, and similarity percentages tests helped identify the specific prey taxa responsible for these differences. Six species specialized on copepods (58·3–96·9% by number), but targeted different families. Specifically, the barbel flyingfish Exocoetus monocirrhus (n = 205) focused on euchaetids (51·6%), the banded flyingfish Hirundichthys marginatus (n = 24) fed on pontellids (21·8%), while the tropical two-wing flyingfish Exocoetus volitans (n = 11) and the bigwing halfbeak Oxyporhamphus micropterus (n = 34) ingested calanoids (54·6 and 17·0%). In contrast, the whitetip flyingfish Cheilopogon xenopterus (n = 73) and the mirrorwing flyingfish Hirundichthys speculiger (n = 4) had generalized diets comprising similar proportions of amphipod, copepod, mollusc and larval fish prey. Distinct differences in mean fullness, highly digested material, per cent empty guts and mean numbers of prey per gut were also synthesized, and uncovered a pattern of asynchronous feeding. Altogether, these findings provide valuable descriptive data on the diets of an understudied group of epipelagic teleosts, and, by extension, suggest that prey partitioning (taxa and feeding times) may influence flyingfish feeding ecology by reducing interspecific competition.

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