The role of non-indigenous benthic macrofauna in the diet of snapper (Pagrus auratus)
Snapper, Pagrus auratus is a valuable coastal fish species in New Zealand and forms an important commercial and recreational fishing industry in the north-east of New Zealand. Previous studies revealed evidence that this carnivorous, primarily benthic feeder consumes a non-indigenous macrobenthic species. Many non-indigenous macrobenthic species have now become established in New Zealand waters. For example, in Rangitoto Channel, Hauraki Gulf, non-indigenous macrobenthic species are prolific, with three bivalve species in particular having thriving populations: Limaria orientalis, Musculista senhousia, and Theora lubrica. The role of these species in the diet of snapper, however, is unknown. To assess the availability of indigenous and non-indigenous prey species to snapper, benthic macrofaunal assemblages throughout Rangitoto Channel were surveyed. To do so, sediment samples were collected at 84 sites. At 24 of these sites sediment was also collected for grain size analysis and at 40 of these sites the seafloor was surveyed with video. To investigate the diet of snapper, fish were collected from four monitoring sites within the channel. Bimonthly monitoring of the diet of snapper as well as the benthic macrofauna was completed at these monitoring sites and trends in the abundance of three prey species, two of which were non-indigenous species, within the sediment and the diet of snapper were compared from June to December 2008. A detailed description of the benthic macrofaunal assemblages throughout Rangitoto Channel confirmed that three non-indigenous species are established throughout this area. The analyses revealed that the diet of snapper has shifted compared to previous studies. Snapper now consume large quantities of two non-indigenous species, M. senhousia and L. orientalis. Consumption of the former species apparently results from its dominance and biomass within the sediment. It is therefore not surprising that snapper consumed large amounts of this species. In contrast, L. orientalis occurred disproportionately in the diet of snapper compared to its abundance within the sediment. I suggest that the establishment of some non-indigenous species benefits snapper.