Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are thought to aggregate in nearshore waters around Christmas Island (105 degrees 37'E, 10 degrees 29'S) to consume the marine larvae of the endemic red land crab (Gecarcoidea natalis). However, there have been no direct observations of sharks feeding on crab larvae. Whale shark faeces were analysed using genetic testing to confirm the presence of crab larvae in their diet. Primers were designed for amplifying two Gecarcoidea natalis mitochondrial small-subunit (mtSSU) rDNA regions. Gel electrophoresis of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products amplified from whale shark faecal DNA produced bands of the expected size for G. natalis templates. Specificity of both primer sets for G. natalis mtSSU rDNA was expected to be high from comparisons with mtSSU rDNA regions from closely related crabs and we confirmed their specificity empirically. The amplification of fragments from faecal DNA of the same size as those produced from G. natalis DNA indicates that the whale shark had been feeding on G. natalis and that enough of the crab DNA survived digestion to be detected by these PCRs. Our study provides further evidence that aggregations of whale sharks in coastal waters occur in response to ephemeral but predictable increases in planktonic prey.
|Journal||Marine and Freshwater Research|
|Publication status||Published - 2009|