Overview / Background
Describing and understanding who eats whom in marine waters of the northeast U.S. has always been part of our mission. The founding of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) included a charge to investigate predator-prey interactions of fishes in marine communities (Baird 1873). Early monographs summarizing our knowledge of regional fishes included diet information (e.g., Bigelow and Welsh 1924; Bigelow and Schroeder 1936). During the 1950-1960s, NMFS’s Woods Hole Laboratory began surveying the marine benthic community, thereby cataloging and mapping the invertebrates which formed the fish forage base in the northwest Atlantic Ocean (Steimle et al. 1995). By the 1970s, the Lab's semi-annual, standardized fishery-independent groundfish surveys were routinely collecting food habits of a number of regional species (Reid et al. 1999; Link and Almeida 2000). Today, routine monitoring and targeted investigations continue, as summarized recently for over 50 species (Smith and Link 2010).
This website summarizes the activities, products, and other resources of the Food Web Dynamics Program (FWDP) at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The principal information source maintained by the FWDP is the Food Habits Database (FHDBS), which has grown over the past few decades to include records of over 550,000 stomachs from over 150 predator species. This database is used regularly as a source of information for several peer-review papers each year , and it is the primary source for modeling consumption rates or predator-prey interactions in ecosystem assessments produced annually. Efforts to make this data more available using a custom-designed, graphic user interface, are underway. FWDP staff also train sea-going staff to identify stomach contents, they go to sea regularly to help collect the more than 10,000 stomach records added to the FHDBS each year, and they augment our understanding of food web dynamics with special projects each year.