Deep-water feeding and behavioral plasticity in Manta birostris revealed by archival tags and submersible observations

Joshua D. Stewart, Edgar Mauricio Hoyos-Padilla, Katherine R. Kumlie, Robert D. Rubine

Zoology, 2016, 119(5): 406-413.






Foraging drives many fundamental aspects of ecology, and an understanding of foraging behavior aids in the conservation of threatened species by identifying critical habitats and spatial patterns relevant to management. The world’s largest ray, the oceanic manta ( /react-text Manta birostris react-text: 201 ) is poorly studied and threatened globally by targeted fisheries and incidental capture. Very little information is available on the natural history, ecology and behavior of the species, complicating management efforts. This study provides the first data on the diving behavior of the species based on data returned from six tagged individuals, and an opportunistic observation from a submersible of a manta foraging at depth. Pop-off archival satellite tags deployed on mantas at the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico recorded seasonal shifts in diving behavior, likely related to changes in the location and availability of zooplankton prey. Across seasons, mantas spent a large proportion of their time centered around the upper limit of the thermocline, where zooplankton often aggregate. Tag data reveal a gradual activity shift from surface waters to 100–150 /react-text react-text: 202   /react-text react-text: 203 m across the tagging period, possibly indicating a change in foraging behavior from targeting surface-associated zooplankton to vertical migrators. The depth ranges accessed by mantas in this study carry variable bycatch risks from different fishing gear types. Consequently, region-specific data on diving behavior can help inform local management strategies that reduce or mitigate bycatch of this vulnerable species.




Manta birostris, Mobulidae, Foraging ecology, Deep scattering layer, Diving behavior




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