Environmental Influences on Long-term Movement Patterns of a Euryhaline Elasmobranch (Carcharhinus leucas) Within a Subtropical Estuary

Abstract

It is well established that juvenile bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) use rivers and estuaries as nursery areas; however, there is a large degree of variation in habitat preference (with respect to salinity and distance upstream) between studies at national and international scales. To investigate habitat preference and the influence of water quality on movement of bull sharks, we monitored 36 juveniles using an array of acoustic receivers in the Logan and Albert Rivers, Australia, for 30 months. Acoustic data were used to estimate mean daily distance upstream, and generalized additive models were used to determine the influence of flow, salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and chlorophyll a on movement. A model that included flow, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll a explained 89% of the variance. Movement was tightly correlated to both flow and salinity with sharks moving downstream in response to increasing flow/declining salinity and upstream during low flow/increasing salinity. During periods of negligible flow and stable salinity, animals moved upstream and downstream in response to decreasing and increasing dissolved oxygen, respectively. Dissolved oxygen and temperature were strongly negatively correlated and interchangeable within the model. Despite fluctuations in environmental salinity (0–32 psu) and a strong declining gradient in salinity with increasing distance upstream, bull sharks remained within a narrow band of salinity (6–10 psu) throughout the tracking period. The results of this study indicate that habitat choice by juvenile bull sharks is a complex tradeoff between physiology, food availability, and predator avoidance, resulting in large differences between adjacent systems and more broadly across their range.

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Acknowledgments

Russ Babcock provided valuable input into the design of the study, and M. Haywood and D. Dennis provided assistance to retrieve acoustic receivers. Douglas Harding provided data from upstream detections, and G. Carlin provided data from the fixed water quality monitoring station. Steven Edgar and C. Moeseneder assisted with access to the water quality data.

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Correspondence to R. D. Pillans.

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Communicated by Mark S. Peterson

Electronic Supplementary Material

Supplementary Fig. S1.

(a). QQ plot of deviance residuals against approximate theoretical quantiles of the deviance residual distribution. Points should largely fall along the line if the errors are Gaussian, (b) Histogram of fitted model residuals indicating normality, (c) observed versus fitted variables shows a strong linear relationship along the identity line indicating that the model predicts the observations well across the range of observations. Red line shows intercept of zero and slope of one. (PNG 130 kb)

Supplementary Fig. S2.

(a). Mean (± SD) of temperature, (b) mean (± SD) of dissolved oxygen, (c) mean (± SD) of turbidity and (d) mean (± SD) of chlorophyll a at increasing distance from the mouth of the Logan River to 29 and 33 upstream in the Albert and Logan River. Means were calculated from monthly data collected between March 2012 and January 2015 by the Queensland Governments EHMP program. (PNG 106 kb)

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Pillans, R.D., Fry, G.C., Steven, A.D.L. et al. Environmental Influences on Long-term Movement Patterns of a Euryhaline Elasmobranch (Carcharhinus leucas) Within a Subtropical Estuary. Estuaries and Coasts (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-020-00755-8

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Keywords

  • Bull shark
  • Movement
  • Acoustic telemetry
  • Habitat preference
  • Estuary
  • Floods
  • Salinity