Habitat-specific inter and intraspecific behavioral interactions among reef sharks

Abstract

Behavioral interactions such as dominance are critical components of animal social lives, competitive abilities, and resulting distribution patterns with coexisting species. Strong interference competition can drive habitat separation, but less is known of the role of interference if agonistic interactions are weak. While most theoretical models assume interference abilities to be constant in an environment, few consider that the extent of interference can vary by habitat and change model predictions. Using baited underwater cameras, we show a consistent dominance status between two sympatric reef sharks at an uninhabited Pacific atoll. Blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and gray reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhyncos) relative abundance showed an inverse relationship to each other but the strength of this relationship varied by habitat. Reef shark relative abundance declined more rapidly in the presence of heterospecifics on forereef habitats as opposed to backreefs. In all habitats, gray reef sharks were more likely to bite bait cages than blacktips when both species were present, and appeared to be the dominant species. Intraspecific interactions were also apparent, with individual willingness to bite bait decreasing as the number of conspecifics increased. Gray reef sharks may exert differential control over blacktip foraging success in different habitats. Habitat-specific behavioral interactions may partially explain patterns of spatial separation between competing species where interference is weak.

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Acknowledgements

We thank K. Davis and P. Carlson for assistance in the field and the entire staff of the Palmyra Atoll research station, TNC, and USFWS for their support. We also thank the two reviewers whose comments improved the manuscript. Research was conducted under US Fish and Wildlife permits #12533-14011 and #12533-15011. All animal surveys were approved by the IACUC of University California Santa Barbara (#856). This is contribution #193 from the Coastlines and Oceans Division of the Institute of Environment at Florida International University. This is publication number PARC-157 from the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium (PARC).

Funding

Funding was provided by Save Our Seas Foundation (to DB), Marisla Foundation grant (to JEC), and MARC U*STAR and the FIU Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievment Program (to MS).

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Contributions

YPP, GR, and DB designed the study. MS and GR analyzed the data. YPP, MS and GR wrote the manuscript with input from DB and JEC. YPP, DB, JEC performed the fieldwork.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yannis P. Papastamatiou.

Additional information

Communicated by Aaron J Wirsing.

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Sabando, M.A., Rieucau, G., Bradley, D. et al. Habitat-specific inter and intraspecific behavioral interactions among reef sharks. Oecologia 193, 371–376 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04676-y

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Keywords

  • Blacktip reef shark
  • Grey reef shark
  • BRUV
  • Competition
  • Dominance