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diet, West Indian manatee, Balancan, Sirenia, foraging ecology


Understanding foraging ecology is an important element of effective conservation strategies. While West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) have been documented to consume a wide variety of vascular plants and algae, little is known about the diet of the Endangered Antillean subspecies (T. m. manatus) at freshwater sites such as the wetlands of Tabasco, the largest manatee habitat in Mexico. Here we present the results of a study of wild manatee diet in a freshwater site in Mexico. Controlled food choice experiments were conducted on a wild adult manatee during the dry seasons of 2011 and 2012. Plant species tested were representative of the habitat and included 14 of the 15 most common species. A total of 54 plant species, representing 25 families and 43 genera, were systematically tested during seven days of experiments. The manatee selected 27 (from 11 families and 20 genera) of the 54 species. Ten of the 20 genera are new reports from the previously known freshwater genera consumed by West Indian manatees, an increase of 12.8%. Results from this study support the literature indicating that manatees are generalists (i.e. feed on a wide variety of plant species); however, this manatee was also very selective in the food items it consumed, both rejecting and selecting an equal amount of species. Both this large dietary breadth and selectivity must be taken into consideration when developing conservation strategies for wild manatees in freshwater habitats and protocols for captive rehabilitation of orphaned and stranded manatees that will be reintroduced into the wild in the region.

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Journal of Marine Animals and Their Ecology





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FAR Report 2020

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