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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-246

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Habitat-associated diet of some flatfish in the southeastern Bering Sea


A total of 1,111 Alaska plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus), northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra), yellowfin sole (Limanda aspera), and flathead sole (Hippoglossoides elassodon)stomachs collected from 27 stations in the eastern Bering Sea in 2009 were analyzed. Benthic grab samples collected at each of the 27 stations (by different cruise) were compared with the diet data.  The habitat types for the stations were classified, from northeast inner-shelf to the southwest outer-shelf of the study area, as sandy (%sand >80), muddy sand (50 <%sand <80), sandy mud (50 <%mud <80), and muddy (%mud >80).  The objective of this study is to correlate the diets of the small-mouth flatfish with their specific habitats and the benthic samples in the eastern Bering Sea area.

The main diet of Alaska plaice included clams and polychaetes.  In the inner-shelf sandier stations (northeast of the study area), Alaska plaice consumed high proportions (> 49% by weight) of clams (mainly Tellinidae).  Towards the southwest middle-shelf muddier stations, the diet of Alaska plaice shifted to higher proportions of deposit-feeding polychaetes (Ampharetidae, Terebellidae, and Trichobranchidae).  The shift in diet from the sandier stations to the muddier stations corresponded relatively well with the shift in the benthic community.

The main food of northern rock sole included clams, polychaetes, and amphipods.  Diet variations were also found among different habitats.  In the middle-shelf muddier stations, polychaetes Terebellida and Sabellida comprised high proportions in their stomach contents.  On the contrary, more bivalves were consumed by northern rock sole in the inner-shelf sandy stations.

The diet of yellowfin sole included: clams (mainly Macoma sp.), gammarid amphipods, polychaetes, ophiurids (mainly Ophiura sarsi and Amphipholis sp.), and sand dollars (Clypeasteroida).  More polychaetes (Phyllodocida, Terebellida, and Sabellida) were consumed by yellowfin sole collected in the middle-shelf muddier stations whereas more Tellinidae clams were consumed in the inner-shelf sandier stations.

The main food of flathead sole included: brittle stars (mainly Ophiura sarsi and Amphipholis sp.), clams (mainly Nuculana sp. and Yoldia sp.), shrimp (mainly Pandalus sp. and Crangon sp.) and amphipods.  Less important prey included polychaetes (mainly Onuphidae), cumacean, crabs, and echiuroids. Because of the distributions of the flathead sole were mainly in the muddier stations in the middle-shelf and outer-shelf, their diets were quite different from other flatfishes. They also had higher diet variations among different stations, caused by the combination of different proportions of polychaetes, clams, amphipods, shrimps, crabs, and brittle stars.

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