BackgroundEstuaries are primary habitats that serve as feeding and nursery grounds for most juvenile marine fish. However, estuaries have been used as fishing grounds by the artisanal fishers in Tanzania. The slow-growing predatory fish at juvenile and sub-adult stages are among the most frequently caught species that functionally enhance multiple linkages of energy pathways within the food web. Stomach contents and stable isotopes (δ13C and δ15N) were used to describe the nutritional sources and trophic niches between the co-existing benthic, predatory species, Carangoides chrysophrys and Epinephelus malabaricus in the Pangani estuary, Tanzania.ResultsThe findings indicated significant inter-specific variations in dietary composition (PERMANOVA, p = 0.001, pseudo-F = 15.81). The prey-specific index of relative importance (%PSIRI) indicated that juvenile shrimps (%PSIRI = 51.4) and Teleostei (%PSIRI = 26.5) were the main diets of C. chrysophrys while brachyura (%PSIRI = 38.8), juvenile shrimps (%PSIRI = 25.6) and Teleostei (%PSIRI = 23.3) were important diets of E. malabaricus. The isotope mixing models indicated that the predatory fish species accumulate nutrients derived from similar autotrophic sources, microphytobenthos, seagrass and macro-algae via consumption of small fish, including clupeids and mugilids. Yet, they significantly showed different isotopic niche width with varying degree of niche overlap across the longitudinal estuary gradient. This situation was justified by the presence of basal food sources among the estuarine zones that isotopically were different.ConclusionThe reliance of both predators on clupeids and mugilid preys that are trophically linked with estuarine and marine basal food sources, is an indication of low estuarine food webs’ connectivity to the fresh water related food web. This situation is most likely threatening the stability of the estuarine food web structure. Management strategies and plans in place should be cautiously implemented to ensure the balanced anthropogenic freshwater use in the catchment and fishing activities, for the maintenance of the Pangani estuarine ecosystem health.
A. Mwijage, D. Shilla, J. Machiwa
Journal of Biological Research