The present study attempts to give information on the resource partitioning between the Mediterranean spearfish (Tetrapturus belone) and the swordfish (Xiphias gladius). The contents of 53 T. belone and 95 X. gladius non-empty stomachs were analysed from specimens caught in the central Mediterranean Sea (Strait of Messina), from 2004 to 2006, by the harpoon fishery. Daily catches (expressed as number of fish) showed the contemporary occurrence of both species in the studied area then allowing direct comparison of diets. Epipelagic fish were the dominant prey (%IRI = 99.1) of T. belone. Eight families were identified among them, with the dominance of Belonidae and Clupeidae, which represented 40.9% and 36.8%, respectively, of the total preyed items in terms of %IRI and were mostly composed of Sardinella aurita and Belone belone.
Xiphias gladius preyed mainly on teleosts and cephalopods, which represented 59% and 39.1%, respectively, of the total preyed items in terms of %IRI. Eleven teleost and five cephalopod families were recognized among them with the dominance of Trichiuridae (IRI% = 30.5) and Ommastrephidae (IRI% = 27.6). The first was represented only by Lepidopus caudatus (IRI% = 30.5), while the latter by the squid Todarodes sagittatus (IRI% = 21.1) and Illex coindettii (IRI% = 6.5). Results of a multivariate statistical analysis demonstrated that the dietary compositions differed significantly between swordfish and spearfish. Diet overlap analysed with the Schoener and Horn indices showed low values (0.23 and 0.21 for the two indices) underlining a food partitioning that prevents competitive exclusion. Our results highlight a feeding strategy that is more related to the habitat of the species than to the food availability. In fact, migration patterns of the two predators are quite different. Swordfish show vertical migrations from 0 to 800 m while spearfish are characterized by limited migrations, ranging between 0 and 200 m depths. The observation of specific prey items in the stomach content of both billfish confirmed the bathymetric range of their migrations.