Increased Abundance and Nursery Habitat Use of the Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) in Response to a Changing Environment in a Warm-Temperate Estuary

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Abstract

A general northward shift in marine species distributions has been observed in the western North Atlantic Ocean, which may have significant ecological consequences. Large coastal sharks can have wide migratory distributions but show fidelity to specific nursery habitats. Here we show evidence for nursery range expansion into Pamlico Sound, North Carolina by a marine apex predator, the Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas). Previous assessments have shown little to no use of estuarine North Carolina waters as nursery habitat by Bull Sharks from 1965-2011. Juvenile sharks were rarely captured in a fishery-independent gillnet survey conducted by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) from 2003-2011, but were present every year from 2011-2016. Juvenile Bull Shark presence in the Sound was strongly related to early summer temperatures and late summer salinities, which have increased in the estuary over the 13 survey years, and further evidence for increasing water temperatures in Pamlico Sound was found in a 45-year data set for the NCDMF estuarine trawl survey. These results suggest that increasing water temperature and salinity have allowed Bull Sharks to expand their nursery habitat. This shift will have unknown, but potentially strong, impacts on both the local ecosystem and interactions with humans.

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Bangley, C. W., Paramore, L., Shiffman, D. S., & Rulifson, R. A. (2018). Increased Abundance and Nursery Habitat Use of the Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) in Response to a Changing Environment in a Warm-Temperate Estuary. Scientific Reports, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-24510-z

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