Diving into the diet of provisioned smooth stingrays using stable isotope analysis

Joni Pini-Fitzsimmons, Vincent Raoult, Troy Gaston, Nathan A. Knott, Culum Brown

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Abstract

Recreational fishing waste, produced from processing catches at shore-based fish cleaning facilities and discarded into adjacent waters, is foraged by various aquatic species. However, the potential alterations to the diet of consumers of these resources are poorly studied. Smooth stingrays (Bathytoshia brevicaudata) are a large demersal mesopredatory ray species and common scavenger of recreational fishing discards around southern Australia. Due to their attraction to fish cleaning sites, they are also common targets of unregulated ‘stingray feeding’ tourism where they are fed commercially produced baits (e.g., pilchards). This study provides a preliminary assessment of the diet of smooth stingrays provisioned recreational fishing discards and baits at two sites in southern New South Wales, Australia (Discard Site: recreational fishing discards only; Provisioning Site: recreational fishing discards and commercial baits) using stable isotope analysis of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N), and Bayesian stable isotope mixing models. Our results indicate that at both sites invertebrates, considered a main part of the natural diet of smooth stingrays, made a limited contribution to the diets of provisioned stingrays, while a benthic teleost fish that is a common recreational catch was the dominant contributor. As the assessed teleost is potentially a natural prey item for smooth stingrays, it remains unclear whether the contribution came from recreational fishing discards or natural foraging. However, due to smooth stingrays’ typically opportunistic foraging strategy, we expected a greater mixture of resources from low to high trophic level prey than was observed. These results suggest that smooth stingrays have either lower reliance on invertebrates as a result of utilizing provisioned resources or higher reliance on teleost fishes than previously thought. Commercial bait products fed to stingrays at the Provisioning Site were not a major contributor to the diets of smooth stingrays, suggesting this activity has a low impact on their nutrition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1206–1218
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Fish Biology
Volume102
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes

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