Ecology of the zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum; with emphasis on a seasonal aggregation in south-east Queensland, Australia

Christine Louise Dudgeon (2008). Ecology of the zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum; with emphasis on a seasonal aggregation in south-east Queensland, Australia PhD Thesis, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland.

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Author Christine Louise Dudgeon
Thesis Title Ecology of the zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum; with emphasis on a seasonal aggregation in south-east Queensland, Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Biological Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-12
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Janet Lanyon
Dr Michael Noad
Dr Jennifer Ovenden
Dr Jayson Semmens
Total pages 184
Total colour pages 4
Total black and white pages 180
Subjects 270000 Biological Sciences
Abstract/Summary ABSTRACT The zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum is an oviparous, demersal carpet shark that forms temporary aggregations and is distributed within shallow, coastal, subtropical and tropical waters of the Indo-West Pacific (IWP) region. The IWP region encompasses various densities of human habitation leading to differences in the levels of exploitation of chondrichthyan fishes, which are targeted for local consumption and export. This is reflected in the two current regional IUCN Red List classifications for zebra sharks of ‘Least Concern’ and ‘Vulnerable’. Despite the conservation concerns for zebra sharks in the vulnerable parts of their range, as well as importance within the ecotourism industry and collection for aquarium trade, little is known about this species in the wild. The aim of this thesis was to conduct the first intensive examination of population ecology in the zebra shark by: (i) investigating the population structure and environmental parameters associated with a relatively unexploited aggregation of zebra sharks in south-east Queensland, Australia; and (ii) investigating the genetic continuity between zebra shark populations in areas with differing levels of exploitation. To investigate the size and structure of the aggregation at the site The Group in south-east Queensland, photo-identification and mark-recapture methods were employed over a three year period (2003 - 2006). In total 327 individual zebra sharks were identified from 570 photographs. Numbered dart tags on 15 zebra sharks were used to confirm pigmentation patterns were unique and persistent in wild zebra sharks for up to 810 days. Pollock’s robust design resulted in an annual population estimate of 458 individuals (95% CI = 298 – 618). The mean number of zebra sharks observed on a single day was 8 (± 8 SE) and the maximum number of zebra sharks seen on a single day was 34. In total, 27% of the sharks were sighted in more than one summer aggregation period and males had greater re-capture probabilities than females. The aggregation consisted exclusively of large (>1800 mm total length) adults with an overall female sex bias of 3.8:1, though sex-ratios varied temporally. Passive acoustic telemetry techniques were employed to investigate the seasonality and residency of the sharks and the environmental parameters associated with their presence at the study site. Five VR2 acoustic receivers were deployed for a period of 21 months (December 2004 – August 2006) and recorded ten acoustically-tagged zebra sharks (seven females and three males). The sharks showed clear seasonality in their visitation patterns with greatest presence during the austral summer months of November through to February and no presence at all during the winter months from June through to October. However their presence did not coincide with peak water temperatures. Rather there appeared to be a critical minimum water temperature of approximately 22 ºC, above which zebra sharks would be present. The tagged zebra sharks displayed greater visitation during the calmest sea conditions. The sharks further displayed diel periodicity with greater during daylight hours, and may be using The Group as a resting site during the inactive diurnal period of the day. Complementing the ecological study on the aggregation, the population genetic structure of 180 zebra sharks from 13 locations throughout the IWP was investigated to test the concordance of IUCN zones with demographic units that have conservation value. A zebra shark specific microsatellite library was developed consisting of 14 polymorphic loci of which 13 were employed for the population genetic analysis along with mitochondrial ND4 sequence data. Mitochondrial and microsatellite data-sets from samples collected throughout northern Australia and south-east Asia concord with the regional IUCN classifications. However, evidence of genetic subdivision was found within these regions, including subdivision between locations connected by habitat suitable for migration. Further, parametric FST analyses and Bayesian clustering analyses indicated the primary genetic break within the IWP is not represented by the IUCN classifications but rather is congruent with the Indonesian throughflow current. This study has demonstrated that zebra sharks form a large, predictable, shallow coastal aggregation comprised entirely of mature adults as well as display high genetic subdivision in the Indo-West Pacific region with little to no recruitment into over-exploited populations from healthy populations. These findings indicate that, if zebra sharks form similar aggregations as that which occurs at The Group in regions of high fishing pressure then, without sufficient protection and management localised depletion and extirpation will eventuate for zebra shark populations in heavily-fished areas.
Keyword zebra Shark
leopard shark
Stegostoma fasciatum
seasonal aggregation
passive acoustic telemetry
population genetics
Indo-West Pacific
Additional Notes Colour pages (x4): 2, 38, 69, 130 Landscape pages (x5): 52, 80, 107, 113, 115

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Created: Wed, 01 Jul 2009, 19:46:25 EST by Miss Christine Dudgeon on behalf of Library - Information Access Service