The feeding ecology of broadbill swordfish (Xiphias gladius) in the California Current was described based on analysis of stomach contents collected by fishery observers aboard commercial drift gillnet boats from 2007 to 2014. Prey were identified to the lowest taxonomic level and diet composition was analyzed using univariate and multivariate methods. Of 299 swordfish sampled (74 to 245 cm eye-to-fork length), 292 non-empty stomachs contained remains from 60 prey taxa. Genetic analyses were used to identify prey that could not be identified visually. Diet consisted mainly of cephalopods but also included epipelagic and mesopelagic teleosts. Jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas) and Gonatopsis borealis were the most important prey based on the geometric index of importance. Swordfish diet varied with body size, location and year. Jumbo squid, Gonatus spp. and Pacific hake (Merluccius productus) were more important for larger swordfish, reflecting the ability of larger specimens to catch large prey. Jumbo squid, Gonatus spp. and market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) were more important in inshore waters, while G. borealis and Pacific hake predominated offshore. Jumbo squid was more important in 2007-2010 than in 2011-2014, with Pacific hake being the most important prey item in the latter period. Diet variation by area and year probably reflects differences in swordfish preference, prey availability, prey distribution, and prey abundance. The range expansion of jumbo squid that occurred during the first decade of this century may particularly explain their prominence in swordfish diet during 2007-2010. Some factors (swordfish size, area, time period, sea surface temperature) that may influence dietary variation in swordfish were identified. Standardizing methods could make future studies more comparable for conservation monitoring purposes.
Bibliographical noteFunding: Support for our study includes salary funding from the NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Science and Technology and contract funds from the Cooperative Institute for Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Systems. The National Observer Program within NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Science and Technology carried out sample collection. While the study fits the scope of work under the coauthors’ performance plans, they received no specific funding for this work. The funders had no role in study design, analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
This work would not have been possible without the assistance and samples provided by the NMFS Southwest Region Fishery Observer Program and the participating drift gillnet fishermen. We thank several assistant volunteers who helped process the stomach samples. Alexandra Stohs provided research assistance. Mark Lowry, Eric Hochberg and John Hyde helped identify some prey specimens. John Field, Chugey Sepulveda and Scott Aalbers offered science feedback. Barbara Muhling helped create the map. Kristen Koch, Annie Yau, Brad Erisman, Heidi Dewar, Stephanie Flores, Crystal Dombrow, Elan Portner and Ruben Bergtraun provided useful comments on the draft. Debra Losey assisted with library research. We also thank Hiroshi Ohizumi and two anonymous reviewers for their careful critiques that helped improve the manuscript.