reticulate whipray, Himanutra uarnak (n=19); blue mask, Neotrygon kuhlii (n=34); cowtail, Pastinachus atrus (n=32) and blue-spotted fantail, Taeniura lymma (n=40) rays at Ningaloo Reef, a fringing coral reef on the north-western coast of western Australia. Age estimates derived from band counts within sectioned vertebrae ranged between 1 and 27 years (H. uarnak, 1 - 25 yrs.; N. kuhlii, 1.5 - 13 yrs.; P. atrus, 1 - 27 yrs. and T. lymma, 1 -11 yrs.). Due to limitations of sample sizes, we combined several analytical methods for estimating growth parameters. First, we used nonlinear least squares (NLS) to identify the growth model that best fitted the data. We then used this model, prior information and the data within a Bayesian framework to approximate the posterior distribution of the growth parameters. For all species the two-parameter von Bertalanffy growth model provided the best fit to size-at-age datasets. Based on this model, the Bayesian approach allowed the estimation of median values of W D? (cm) and k (yr(-1)) for the four species (H. uarnak: 149 and 0.12; N. kuhlii: 42 and 0.38; P. atrus 156 and 0.16, and T. lymma 33 and 0.24, respectively). Our approach highlights the value of combining different analytical methods and prior knowledge for estimating growth parameters when data quality and quantity are limited.
Monitoring changes in coral cover and composition through space and time can provide insights to reef health and assist the focus of management and conservation efforts. We used a meta-analytical approach to assess coral cover data across latitudes 10-35°S along the west Australian coast, including 25 years of data from the Ningaloo region. Current estimates of coral cover ranged between 3 and 44% in coral habitats. Coral communities in the northern regions were dominated by corals from the families Acroporidae and Poritidae, which became less common at higher latitudes. At Ningaloo Reef coral cover has remained relatively stable through time (?28%), although north-eastern and southern areas have experienced significant declines in overall cover. These declines are likely related to periodic disturbances such as cyclones and thermal anomalies, which were particularly noticeable around 1998/1999 and 2010/2011. Linear mixed effects models (LME) suggest latitude explains 10% of the deviance in coral cover through time at Ningaloo. Acroporidae has decreased in abundance relative to other common families at Ningaloo in the south, which might be related to persistence of more thermally and mechanically tolerant families. We identify regions where quantitative time-series data on coral cover and composition are lacking, particularly in north-western Australia. Standardising routine monitoring methods used by management and research agencies at these, and other locations, would allow a more robust assessment of coral condition and a better basis for conservation of coral reefs.
We used acoustic telemetry to describe the patterns of vertical movement, site fidelity and residency of grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) on the outer slope of coral reefs in Palau, Micronesia, over a period of two years and nine months. We tagged 39 sharks (mostly adult females) of which 31 were detected regularly throughout the study. Sharks displayed strong inter-annual residency with greater attendance at monitored sites during summer than winter months. More individuals were detected during the day than at night. Mean depths of tagged sharks increased from 35 m in winter to 60 m in spring following an increase in water temperature at 60 m, with maximum mean depths attained when water temperatures at 60 m stabilised around 29°C. Sharks descended to greater depths and used a wider range of depths around the time of the full moon. There were also crepuscular cycles in mean depth, with sharks moving into shallower waters at dawn and dusk each day. We suggest that daily, lunar and seasonal cycles in vertical movement and residency are strategies for optimising both energetic budgets and foraging behaviour. Cyclical patterns of movement in response to environmental variables might affect the susceptibility of reef sharks to fishing, a consideration that should be taken into account in the implementation of conservation strategies.
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