Exploring trophic strategies of exotic caprellids (Crustacea: Amphipoda): comparison between habitat types and native vs introduced distribution ranges.
The trophic ecology of non-native species is a key aspect to understand their invasion success and the community effects. Despite the important role of caprellid amphipods as trophic intermediates between primary producers and higher levels of marine food webs, there is very little information on their feeding habits. This is the first comprehensive study on the trophic strategies of two co-occurring introduced caprellids in the Spanish coasts: Caprella scaura and Paracaprella pusilla. The diet of 446 specimens of C. scaura and 230 of P. pusilla was analyzed to investigate whether there were differences in the feeding habits in relation to habitat characteristics (natural vs artificial hard substrata), type of host substrata (bryozoans and hydroids) and native vs introduced distribution ranges (Brazil vs Spain). Results revealed differences in diet preferences of the two species that have important implications for their trophic behaviour and showed a limited food overlap, which may favour their coexistence in introduced areas. In general terms, P. pusilla is a predator species, showing preference by crustacean prey in all of its life stages, while C. scaura feeds mainly on detritus. Although no sex-related diet shifts were observed in either of the species, evidence of ontogenetic variation in diet of C. scaura was found, with juveniles feeding on more amount of prey than adults. No diet differences were found between native and introduced populations within the same habitat type. However, P. pusilla exhibited a shift in its diet when different habitats were compared in the same distribution area, and C. scaura showed a flexible feeding behaviour between different host substrata in the same habitat type. This study shows that habitat characteristics at different scales can have greater influence on the feeding ecology of exotic species than different distribution ranges, and support the hypothesis that a switch between feeding strategies depending on habitat characteristics could favour invasion success.