Deep-sea macrourid fishes scavenge on plant material: evidence from in situ observations

Rachel Jeffreys, Marc Lavaleye, Magda Bergman, Gerard Duineveld, Rob Witbaard, Thom Linley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Deep-sea benthic communities primarily rely on an allochthonous food source. This may be in the form of phytodetritus or as food falls e.g. sinking carcasses of nekton or debris of marine macrophyte algae. Deep-sea macrourids are the most abundant demersal fish in the deep ocean. Macrourids are generally considered to be the apex predators/scavengers in deep-sea communities. Baited camera experiments and stable isotope analyses have demonstrated that animal carrion derived from the surface waters is an important component in the diets of macrourids; some macrourid stomachs also contained vegetable/plant material e.g. onion peels, oranges, algae. The latter observations led us to the question: is plant material an attractive food source for deep-sea scavenging fish? We simulated a plant food fall using in situ benthic lander systems equipped with a baited time-lapse camera. Abyssal macrourids and cusk-eels were attracted to the bait, both feeding vigorously on the bait, and the majority of the bait was consumed in <30 h. These observations indicate (1) plant material can produce an odour plume similar to that of animal carrion and attracts deep-sea fish, and (2) deep-sea fish readily eat plant material. This represents to our knowledge the first in situ documentation of deep-sea fish ingesting plant material and highlights the variability in the scavenging nature of deep-sea fishes. This may have implications for food webs in areas where macrophyte/seagrass detritus is abundant at the seafloor e.g. canyon systems and continental shelves close to seagrass meadows (Bahamas and Mediterranean).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-627
Number of pages7
JournalDeep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Issue number4
Early online date10 Feb 2010
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • deep-sea
  • plant
  • food fall
  • scavengers
  • fish
  • grenadiers
  • diet
  • Atlantic Ocean


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