Nutritional grouping of marine forage species reveals contrasted exposure of high trophic levels to essential micro‐nutrients

By transferring energy and nutrients from plankton to top predators, forage species play a major ecological role in marine food webs. While large differences in energy densities have been demonstrated among these species, other determinants of their quality remain poorly explored. We analysed 78 forage species from the Bay of Biscay, NE Atlantic, for their concentrations in various chemical elements with a documented biological role (i.e. micro-nutrients). Species encompassed jellyfish, crustaceans, cephalopods, cartilaginous and bony fish. Elements included two essential macro-minerals (nitrogen and phosphorous) and nine trace elements (arsenic (As), cobalt, copper (Cu), chromium, iron, manganese, nickel, selenium (Se), zinc). We showed a broad range of elemental composition values across forage species, partly driven by taxonomy (fish versus crustaceans/cephalopods) or their habitat (coastal versus oceanic, pelagic versus benthic). Some elements (As, Cu or Se) were more variable than others, especially in fish for Cu and Se. The 78 forage species were then classified by hierarchical clustering analysis (HCA) into different nutritional groups, based on their composition in eleven elements. Mean concentrations of each element in the diet of eight cetacean species was finally calculated, as well as the importance of each nutritional group (as defined by HCA including all elements) for each predator species. We revealed contrasting diets in terms of exposure to elements. Neritic common dolphins and harbour porpoises but also minke whales were thus mainly supplied by the Se-enriched nutritional group composed of small (pelagic) schooling fish (including sandeels, (horse) mackerel and also some Clupeids), while the diets of pilot whales or Risso's dolphins that mostly consume benthic cephalopods were clearly Cu-enriched. This study raises the issue of essential element composition as another determinant of food quality, and the risk associated with changes in forage species' availability for the proper functioning of marine food webs and ecosystems.


cetaceans, inorganic elements, macro-minerals, matter transfer, prey, trace metals

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Chouvelon Tiphaine, Gilbert Lola, Caurant Florence, Méndez‐fernandez Paula, Bustamante Paco, Brault‐favrou Maud, Spitz Jérôme (2022). Nutritional grouping of marine forage species reveals contrasted exposure of high trophic levels to essential micro‐nutrients. Oikos. 2022 (7). e08844 (22p.).,

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