The Mediterranean Sea is among the three biodiversity hotspots of the world where elasmobranchs are severely threatened. Elasmobranchs act as apex or meso-predators within marine food webs and the loss/decline of apex predators determines the mesopredator release, leading in turn to increased predation on smaller prey. However, also several mesopredators (including rays, skates and small sharks) are intensively fished, being of commercial interest, or by-caught, and thus mesopredators increase could not be so evident. We analysed the trophic ecology of an endemic Mediterranean ray, the starry ray Raja asterias, at a seasonal scale from the Adriatic basin, one of the most intensively exploited area of the Mediterranean, by means of stomach contents and stable isotopes analyses. Our results evidenced that starry rays rely on benthic sources including species of local commercial values, such as swimming crabs, small cephalopods, and stomatopods and share the same trophic position with other elasmobranchs (rays, skates, and small sharks) and other mesopredators (e.g., common soles, Norway lobsters and mullets). As all mesopredators are overexploited, as well as their benthic prey are affected by intense trawl-fishing, the whole food webs are disrupted and neither the classical trophic cascade nor the mesopredator release hypothesis could be verified. Conservation measures for these species, such as the release after capture or the application of exclusion grids to the net, should be applied in areas where populations are strongly impacted by trawling.
Crowding in the middle of marine food webs: A focus on Raja asterias and other mediterranean batoids / Fanelli, E; Da Ros, Z; Martino, I; Azzurro, E; Bargione, G; Donato, F; Lucchetti, A. - In: MARINE ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH. - ISSN 0141-1136. - 183:(2023), p. 105830. [10.1016/j.marenvres.2022.105830]