Characterisation of the dietary relationships of two sympatric hake species, Merluccius capensis and M. paradoxus, in the northern Benguela region using fatty acid profiles
The two sympatric species of Cape hake, Merluccius capensis and M. paradoxus, have been the main targets of bottom-trawl fisheries off Namibia for several decades. The feeding ecology of these hakes has been studied mainly using stomach content analyses and thus there remain some gaps in our knowledge about food assimilated over the longer term. In this study, we used fatty acid (FA) profiles to characterise the dietary relationships of M. capensis and M. paradoxus. Muscle samples from hake (n = 110) and their known prey (n = 68) were collected during trawl surveys off Namibia during 2011. Significant differences between the neutral FA profiles of the hake populations were detected in December 2011 but not in January 2011, an indication of temporal variations in diet and resource partitioning. Comparisons of the neutral FAs in hake and the total FAs of potential prey showed no clear trophic connections, with the exception of flying squid Todarodes sagittatus, which had FA profiles very similar to those of M. paradoxus in December 2011. Our results highlight the complex and temporally shifting relationships that exist between hake and the large pool of prey available to them, and between the two hake species that overlap in their feeding habits and distribution within the highly productive Benguela Current region.
Keywords: ecosystem approach to fisheries management, fatty acids, hake prey, trophic relationships