Abstract

Sharks are marine consumers believed to occupy top positions in marine food webs. But surprisingly, trophic level estimates for these predators are almost non-existent. With the hope of helping better define the ecological role of sharks in marine communities, this paper presents standardized diet compositions and trophic levels calculated for a suite of species. Dietary composition for each species was derived from published quantitative studies using a weighted average index that takes into account sample size in each study. The trophic level (TL) values of the 11 food types used to characterize the diet (obtained from published accounts) were then used to calculate fractional trophic levels for 149 species representing eight orders and 23 families. Sharks as a group are tertiary consumers (TL>4), and significant differences were found among the six orders compared, which were attributable to differences between orectolobiforms (TL<4) and all other orders, and between hexanchiforms and both carcharhiniforms and squatiniforms. Among four families of carcharhiniform sharks, carcharhinids (TL=4.1, n=39) had a significantly higher TL than triakids (TL=3.8, n=19) and scyliorhinids (TL=3.9, n=21), but not sphyrnids (TL=3.9, n=6). When compared to trophic levels for other top predators of marine communities obtained from the literature, mean TL for sharks was significantly higher than for seabirds (n=28), but not for marine mammals (n=97). Trophic level and body size were positively correlated (rs=0.33), with the fit increasing (rs=0.41) when the three predominantly zooplanktivorous sharks were omitted, and especially when considering only carcharhinid sharks (rs=0.55).