Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Trophic shifts in three subtropical Australian halfbeaks (Teleostei : Hemiramphidae)

Ian R. Tibbetts A B and Lee Carseldine A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 56(6) 925-932
Submitted: 27 December 2004  Accepted: 25 May 2005   Published: 27 September 2005


To elucidate the trophic status of hemiramphids, the diets of three species from subtropical south-east Queensland were investigated. All undergo a marked ontogenetic trophic shift from an animal to plant diet, which occurred between 50 and 70 mm standard length (Ls) for Arrhamphus sclerolepis krefftii (freshwater) and between 80 and 110 mm Ls for both Hyporhamphus regularis ardelio and H. quoyi (both marine). After the ontogenetic shift, the diet of A. sclerolepis krefftii is dominated by filamentous algae, whereas the diet of the two marine species is dominated by Zostera capricorni. The two marine species feed mainly during the day, with gut fullness dropping markedly after dusk. Neither showed evidence of a diel trophic shift between herbivory and carnivory that has been reported for other hemiramphids. The lack of diel trophic switching in these subtropical hemiramphids may suggest that latitudinal effects on daylength and/or water temperature may influence the extent to which hemiramphids switch periodically to animal prey from an otherwise essentially herbivorous diet in order to balance their nutrient requirements.

Extra keywords: diet, garfish, ontogenetic shift, trophic plasticity.


We thank Michael Tibbetts, David Brewer, Daniel Gaughan, Scott Cook and others for help with sampling, and Dr Kevin Warburton and anonymous reviewers for critical comments on the manuscript. Love and thanks posthumously to Wendy Barbara Tibbetts (1959–1999) for her dedicated assistance with sampling and data entry.


Al-Hussaini, A. H. (1947). The feeding habits and morphology of the alimentary tracts of some teleosts living in the neighborhood of the marine biological station, Ghardaqa, Red Sea. Publications of the Marine Biological Station of Ghardaqa 5, 1–61.

Bell, J. D. , Burchmore, J. J. , and Pollard, D. A. (1978). Feeding ecology of a scorpaenid fish, the fortescue Centropogon australis from a Posidonia australis seagrass habitat in New South Wales. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 29, 175–185.

Berkeley, S. A. , and Houde, E. D. (1978). Biology of two commercially exploited halfbeaks, Hemiramphus brasiliensis and H. balao from Southeast Florida. Bulletin of Marine Science 28, 624–644.

Blaber, S. J. M. (1980). Fish of the Trinity Inlet system of North Queensland with notes on the ecology of fish faunas of tropical Indo-Pacific estuaries. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 31, 137–146.

Blaber, S. J. M. , and Blaber, T. J. (1980). Factors affecting the distribution of juvenile estuarine and inshore fish. Journal of Fish Biology 17, 143–162.

Coetzee, D. J. (1981). Analysis of the gut contents of the needlefish Hyporhamphus knysnaensis (Smith) from Rondevlei, South Cape. South African Journal of Zoology 16, 14–20.

Edgar, G. J. , and Shaw, C. (1995). The production and trophic ecology of shallow-water fish assemblages in southern Australia II. Diets of fishes and trophic relationships between fishes and benthos at Western Port, Victoria. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 194, 83–106.
CrossRef |

Elliott, J. P. , and Bellwood, D. R. (2003). Alimentary tract morphology and diet in three coral reef fish families. Journal of Fish Biology 63, 1598–1609.
CrossRef |

Floeter, S. R. , Ferriera, C. E. L. , Dominici-Arosemena, A. , and Zalmon, I. (2004). Latitudinal gradients in Atlantic reef fish communities: trophic structure and spatial use patterns. Journal of Fish Biology 64, 1680–1699.
CrossRef |

Graham, D. W. (1938). Food of the fishes of Otago Harbour and adjacent seas with addition to previous records. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand 68, 421–436.

Grant E. M. (2002). ‘Grant’s Guide to Fishes.’ 9th edn. (E. M. Grant Pty Ltd.: Brisbane.)

Harmelin-Vivien M. L. (2002). Energetics and fish diversity on coral reefs. In ‘Coral Reef Fishes: Dynamics and Diversity in a Complex Ecosystem’. (Ed. P. F. Sale.) pp. 265–274. (Academic Press: San Diego, CA.)

Harrison, P. G. , and Mann, K. H. (1975). Chemical changes during the seasonal cycle of growth and decay in eelgrass (Zostera marina) on the Atlantic coast of Canada. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 32, 615–621.

Hiatt, R. W. , and Strasburg, D. W. (1960). Ecological relationships of the fish fauna on coral reefs of the Marshall Islands. Ecological Monographs 30, 65–127.

Hill, R. A. , Barrett, L. , Gaynor, D. , Weingrill, T. , Dixon, P. , Payne, H. , and Henzi, S. P. (2003). Day length, latitude and behavioural (in)flexibility in baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus). Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 53, 278–286.

Horn, M. H. (1989). The biology of marine herbivorous fishes. Oceanography and Marine Biology Annual Review 27, 167–272.

Hynes, H. B. N. (1950). The food of freshwater sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus and Pygosteus pungitius), with a review of methods used in studies of the food of fishes. Journal of Animal Ecology 19, 36–58.

Klumpp, D. W. , and Nichols, P. D. (1983). Nutrition of the southern sea garfish Hyporhamphus melanochir: gut passage rate and daily consumption of two food types and assimilation of seagrass components. Marine Ecology Progress Series 12, 207–216.

Jacoby, C. A. , and Greenwood, J. G. (1988). Emergent zooplankton in Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia: seasonal, lunar and diel patterns in emergence and distribution with respect to substrate. Marine Ecology Progress Series 51, 131–155.

Ling, J. K. (1958). The sea garfish, Reporhamphus melanochir (Cuvier and Valenciennes) (Hemiramphidae), in South Australia: breeding, age determination, and growth rate. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 9, 60–110.

Odum W. E. (1970). Utilization of the direct grazing and plant detritus food chains by the striped mullet Mugil cephalus. In ‘Marine Food Chains’. (Ed. J. H. Steele.) pp. 222–240. (Oliver and Boyd: Edinburgh.)

Randall, J. E. (1967). The food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies. Studies in Tropical Oceanography 5, 665–847.

Robertson A. I. (1978). Trophic interactions among the macrofauna of an eelgrass community. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Melbourne.

Robertson, A. I. , and Howard, R. K. (1978). Diel trophic interactions between vertically migrating zooplankton and their fish predators in an eelgrass community. Marine Biology 48, 207–213.
CrossRef |

Robertson, A. I. , and Klumpp, D. W. (1983). Feeding habits of the southern Australian garfish, Hyporhamphus melanochir: a diurnal herbivore and nocturnal carnivore. Marine Ecology Progress Series 10, 197–206.

Saunders, A. J. , and Montgomery, J. C. (1985). Field and laboratory studies of the feeding behavior of the piper Hyporhamphus ihi with reference to the role of the lateral line in feeding. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 224B, 209–221.

Smith, J. L. B. (1933). The South African species of the genus Hemiramphus Cuvier. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 21, 129–150.

Suyehiro, Y. (1942). A study of the digestive system and feeding habits of fish. Japanese Journal of Zoology 10, 1–300.

Talwar, P. K. (1962). Studies on the food and feeding relationship of the halfbeak fishes (Hemirhamphidae) from the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay. Indian Journal of Fishes 9, 1–9.

Thomson, J. M. (1957). The food of West Australian estuarine fish. Fisheries Bulletin of Western Australia 7, 1–13.

Thomson, J. M. (1959). Some aspects of the ecology of Lake Macquarie N.S.W. with regard to an alleged depletion of fish. IX. The fishes and their food. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 10, 365–374.

Tibbetts I. R. (1992). The trophic ecology, functional morphology and phylogeny of the Hemiramphidae (Beloniformes). Ph.D. Thesis, The University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Tibbetts, I. R. , and Carseldine, L. (2003). Anatomy of a hemiramphid pharyngeal mill with reference to Arrhamphus sclerolepis krefftii (Steindachner) (Teleostei: Hemiramphidae). Journal of Morphology 255, 228–243.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (14)

View Altmetrics