Original Articles

Diet of sardine Sardinops sagax in the southern Benguela upwelling ecosystem


The diet of sardine Sardinops sagax in the southern Benguela was investigated by microscopic examination of stomach contents. The relative dietary importance of prey size and prey type was assessed by calculating the carbon content of prey items. Sardine is an omnivorous clupeoid, ingesting both phytoplankton and zooplankton, with the relative importance of these two food types varying both spatially and temporally. Stomach contents were numerically dominated by small prey items, principally dinoflagellates, followed by crustacean eggs, cyclopoid copepods, calanoid copepods and diatoms. Virtually all prey items ingested by sardine were <1.2 mm maximum dimension, the particle size below which sardine only filter-feed. Despite the numerical dominance by phytoplankton, zooplankton contributed the major portion to sardine dietary carbon, small calanoid and cyclopoid copepods, anchovy eggs and crustacean eggs being the primary prey types. These results indicate that, like anchovy Engraulis capensis, sardine in the southern Benguela are primarily zoophagous, and contrast with earlier dietary studies on sardine in the region. However, the two species appear to partition their prey on the basis of size; sardine consume small zooplankton, whereas anchovy consume large zooplankton. This difference has been observed in other upwelling ecosystems where the two genera co-exist and is likely to contribute to the regime shifts observed between sardine and anchovy.

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