Barents Sea cod (Gadus morhua) diet composition: long-term interannual, seasonal, and ontogenetic patterns
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) is an ecologically and commercially important species in the North-Atlantic region. Cod is a top predator and information on its trophic ecology is integral for understanding predator–prey relationships and food-web dynamics. We present an analysis of the trophic patterns of Barents Sea (BS) cod using a unique 33-year time-series of stomach-content data from 1984 to 2016. We assessed patterns in diet (prey) composition across years, between seasons, as well as ontogenetic trends in diet, including predator–prey size relationships. Ontogenetic shifts in diet were observed, with fish becoming more important prey with increasing cod size. A very early onset of piscivory was found in <20 cm cod. Cannibalism was found in cod > 20 cm and increased with size. Juvenile cod exhibit a tendency towards consuming prey up to 33% of their body length, whereas larger cod feed on all prey sizes, resulting in asymmetric predator–prey size distributions. Diet varied significantly during 1984–2016, consistent with changes in both prey, cod abundance, and distribution. Seasonal differences were observed; capelin dominated the winter diet, whereas cod, polar cod, and other fish species were prevalent in summer/autumn months. This work represents an important step towards understanding trophic linkages that determine BS ecosystem dynamics.