Biology, demography and conservation of rays in Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia.

Simon Pierce (2008). Biology, demography and conservation of rays in Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. PhD Thesis, School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Queensland.

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Author Simon Pierce
Thesis Title Biology, demography and conservation of rays in Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia.
School, Centre or Institute School of Biomedical Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Assoc. Prof. Michael B. Bennett
Total pages 191
Total colour pages 6
Total black and white pages 185
Subjects 300000 Agricultural, Veterinary and Environmental Sciences
Abstract/Summary Thirteen elasmobranch species were collected during a four year seine-net survey of the intertidal margins of Moreton Bay, a large subtropical embayment in southeast Queensland, Australia. The inshore elasmobranch fauna of Moreton Bay is relatively species rich in comparison to sites elsewhere in Australia, emphasising the regional importance of this ecosystem. Stingrays were the most common large predators in the intertidal, with overall catches dominated numerically by the blue-spotted maskray Neotrygon kuhlii (53.8%) and the estuary stingray Dasyatis fluviorum (22.2%). The biological and demographic characteristics of these two species were examined in detail. Neotrygon kuhlii ranged in size from 11.5 – 46.5 cm disc width (WD), with 50% maturity in females at 31.4 cm WD and 6.32 years old and at 29.4 cm WD and 3.95 years in males. Neotrygon kuhlii has a synchronous annual reproductive cycle, producing one litter of 1 – 3 pups (mean of 1.67 ± 0.71 S.D.) in the late Austral summer after a four month gestation. Maximum age estimates of 13 and 10 years were obtained from females and male N. kuhlii, respectively. Annual band pair deposition was confirmed through the recapture of four wild calcein-injected individuals from 22.7 to 30.2 cm WD. A three parameter power function provided the best statistical fit to age-at-size data for both sexes, providing parameter estimates of y0 = 163.13, a = 58.52 and b = 0.58 for females and y0 = 165.13, a = 59.02 and b = 0.54 in males. Individual growth rates obtained from tagged specimens were not qualitatively different to modelled growth predictions. Tagging studies produced a total recapture rate of 16.1%, with individual rays at liberty for up to 1081 days. Direct estimates of instantaneous mortality for N. kuhlii were derived by creating catch curves for both sexes from age-frequency keys. Mortality was estimated at 0.171 ± 0.024.yr-1 S.E. in females, corresponding with a population growth rate of 1.00.yr-1 based on deterministic matrix demographic model predictions, and 0.345 ± 0.022.yr-1 S.E. in males. Seven age-independent and two age-dependent indirect mortality estimates produced negative population growth rates of 0.84 to 0.98.yr-1. Elasticity results were relatively robust to mortality estimates, with juvenile survivorship contributing 74-75% of total elasticity under all scenarios. Dasyatis fluviorum is endemic to near-shore, estuarine and riverine habitats along the eastern coast of Australia. Previous records of the species from northern Australia and New Guinea appear to be misidentifications of other, similar species. Dasyatis fluviorum was caught at 15.5 cm to 76.2 cm WD in Moreton Bay, with 50% maturity occurring at 63 cm WD (13.40 years) in females and 41.2 cm WD (6.97 years) in males. Maximum age estimates of 21 and 16 years were obtained from females and males, respectively. The Gompertz growth function provided the best fit to estimated age data in female D. fluviorum, providing parameter estimates of WD∞ = 100.3 cm, k = 0.09.yr-1 and t0 = 5.66. The modified two-parameter von Bertalanffy growth function provided the best fit to male size-at-age data, providing parameter estimates of WD∞ = 73.4 cm, k = 0.10.yr-1 and b = 0.86. An annual reproductive cycle in female D. fluviorum was hypothesised based on preliminary reproductive data. Fecundity estimates were derived from the related D. americana for input into deterministic and stochastic demographic models. Six out of nine indirect mortality estimates produced positive population growth in deterministic models, with a probabilistic estimate of 1.02.yr-1. Elasticity results were robust to model structure, mortality and fecundity estimates, with juvenile survivorship comprising 74-78% of total elasticity under all scenarios. Both N. kuhlii and D. fluviorum provide interesting case studies in elasmobranch conservation. Neotrygon kuhlii is a common bycatch of demersal prawn-trawl fisheries in Australia. Although mandatory turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) exclude most large vertebrates from trawl catches in Australian waters, their benefits in the reduction of smaller elasmobranch bycatch has not been empirically tested. The results of deterministic demographic models show that TEDs can, in principle, mitigate the impacts of trawl fisheries by partially excluding highly-elastic large juvenile age-classes. However, N. kuhlii is the largest of the four Neotrygon species found in Australian waters and bycatch of the three smaller species may be less reduced by current bycatch reduction technologies. Dasyatis fluviorum is affected by a suite of anthropogenic threats in its near-shore and estuarine habitats including commercial and recreational fisheries, habitat modification and pollution. Within Moreton Bay, 10.8% of the surveyed population bore evidence of past interactions with fisheries as evidenced by retained hooks or mutilated tails. Deep-hooking resulted in significant pathological effects including fibrocollagenous scar tissue masses, peritonitis and hepatitis. Stochastic demographic scenarios were created to model the potential effects of low (0.02 yr-1), medium (0.05 yr-1) and high (0.10 yr-1) rates of additive anthropogenic mortality to simulate stage-specific conservation interventions on D. fluviorum. Removing anthropogenic mortality on juvenile age-classes provided the largest benefits in terms of reducing population decline. The probability of the species’ conservation status declining further to Endangered, based on IUCN criteria, ranged from 39% to 100% under these mortality scenarios if no conservation measures were applied.
Keyword Chondrichthyes
Moreton Bay
Recreational fishing
Additional Notes 1, 59, 76, 112, 154, 157

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