Published: Fri, September 07, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

‘Omnivorous’ shark is happy to munch on seagrass

‘Omnivorous’ shark is happy to munch on seagrass

The finding solves something that has been puzzling scientists for the past year after they made the surprise discovery that the bonnethead consumes huge quantities of seagrass - when sharks had always been known as strict carnivores.

"Bonnethead sharks are not only consuming copious amount of seagrass but they are actually capable of digesting and assimilating seagrass nutrients, making them clear omnivores", the researchers wrote in their study.

"It has been assumed by most that this consumption was incidental and that it provided no nutritional value", lead author Samantha Leigh, an expert in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, told The Guardian.

The bonnethead was once thought to be exclusively carnivorous thanks to a diet that includes small fish, crabs, shrimp and mollusks.

The researchers monitored the bonnetheads for a period of three weeks, during which time they fed the sharks a diet of 90 percent seagrass and 10 percent squid.

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To be sure, researchers ran a new series of tests, meant to measure how much of the plant matter was digested and how much of it simply passed through.

She said she hopes the study "opens up the door for additional research" about seagrass communities and sharks in general.

"If other species are taking omnivorous digestive strategies as well, then we'd need to reevaluate their role as top predators", she said.

Not all carnivores can digest plant material efficiently, but sharks fed the seagrass-heavy diet all gained weight, the team found.

According to a scientist that bloodthirsty urge to eat meat is not in every shark's DNA.

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Approximately 4.9 million individuals swim in the coastal waters of the US in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

The effect of a particular species is important to understand as many species are under potential threat of extinction, and understanding their role can provide an altogether new perspective on the matter, apart from the fact that other species are getting extinct due to the direct actions of humans."This is critical to effectively formulating conservation efforts". From there, the researchers were able to analyze the number of nutrients the sharks were able to absorb and how much they excreted.

Though small by shark standards, adult females - the larger of the sexes - can still reach an impressive five feet long.

For a little over a decade, it's been know that bonnethead sharks, a type of hammerhead, consume a whole lot of seagrass, with more than 62 percent of their stomach contents housing the aquatic plant. Carnivores like white sharks usually have very low levels of enzymes that break down fibers and carbs. "This has implications for fragile and crucial seagrass meadow habitat management", said Leigh.

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