Unravelling the foraging behavior of the southern stingray, Hypanus americanus (Myliobatiformes: Dasyatidae) in a Southwestern Atlantic MPA

ABSTRACT Previous study suggested that the southern stingray (Hypanus americanus) displays a marked ontogenetic shift in its habitat use in the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago (FNA), an attractive touristic spot in Brazil, that could be associated with changes in its feeding habits and foraging strategies. Here, we conducted underwater visual surveys (~100 h a 3 years’ study) at this site to describe the foraging behavior of the same species in details and to assess diel patterns in activity. We observed that H. americanus is capable of several complex and highly plastic behaviors (we described more than 21 of them) while foraging. The foraging events’ timing appears to be related to the size (as well as sex) of the stingrays, environment and depth. In addition, our results support a segregation of habitat mediated by the size and sex of the stingrays, but it is able to modulate its foraging repertoire based mainly on environmental stimulus. Finally, we found that H. americanus forage intermittently throughout the day and tidal cycle, yet are less active during non-crepuscular periods and at flood and ebb tides. These results, coupled with the fact that the species uses both reef and beach environments, should be considered by decision makers in management plans.