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Augmentation of French grunt diet description using combined visual and DNA-based analyses

August 29, 2012

Trophic linkages within a coral-reef ecosystem may be difficult to discern in fish species that reside on, but do not forage on, coral reefs. Furthermore, dietary analysis of fish can be difficult in situations where prey is thoroughly macerated, resulting in many visually unrecognisable food items. The present study examined whether the inclusion of a DNA-based method could improve the identification of prey consumed by French grunt, Haemulon flavolineatum, a reef fish that possesses pharyngeal teeth and forages on soft-bodied prey items. Visual analysis indicated that crustaceans were most abundant numerically (38.9%), followed by sipunculans (31.0%) and polychaete worms (5.2%), with a substantial number of unidentified prey (12.7%). For the subset of prey with both visual and molecular data, there was a marked reduction in the number of unidentified sipunculans (visual – 31.1%, combined &ndash 4.4%), unidentified crustaceans (visual &ndash 15.6%, combined &ndash 6.7%), and unidentified taxa (visual &ndash 11.1%, combined &ndash 0.0%). Utilising results from both methodologies resulted in an increased number of prey placed at the family level (visual &ndash 6, combined &ndash 33) and species level (visual &ndash 0, combined &ndash 4). Although more costly than visual analysis alone, our study demonstrated the feasibility of DNA-based identification of visually unidentifiable prey in the stomach contents of fish.