Reef sharks exhibit site-fidelity and higher relative abundance in marine reserves on the Mesoamerican Barrier reef

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Abstract

Carcharhinid sharks can make up a large fraction of the top predators inhabiting tropical marine ecosystems and have declined in many regions due to intense fishing pressure. There is some support for the hypothesis that carcharhinid species that complete their life-cycle within coral reef ecosystems, hereafter referred to as "reef sharks", are more abundant inside no-take marine reserves due to a reduction in fishing pressure (i.e., they benefit from marine reserves). Key predictions of this hypothesis are that (a) individual reef sharks exhibit high site-fidelity to these protected areas and (b) their relative abundance will generally be higher in these areas compared to fished reefs. To test this hypothesis for the first time in Caribbean coral reef ecosystems we combined acoustic monitoring and baited remote underwater video (BRUV) surveys to measure reef shark site-fidelity and relative abundance, respectively. We focused on the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), the most common reef shark in the Western Atlantic, at Glover's Reef Marine Reserve (GRMR), Belize. Acoustically tagged sharks (N = 34) were detected throughout the year at this location and exhibited strong site-fidelity. Shark presence or absence on 200 BRUVs deployed at GRMR and three other sites (another reserve site and two fished reefs) showed that the factor "marine reserve" had a significant positive effect on reef shark presence. We rejected environmental factors or site-environment interactions as predominant drivers of this pattern. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that marine reserves can benefit reef shark populations and we suggest new hypotheses to determine the underlying mechanism(s) involved: reduced fishing mortality or enhanced prey availability.

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Bond, M. E., Babcock, E. A., Pikitch, E. K., Abercrombie, D. L., Lamb, N. F., & Chapman, D. D. (2012). Reef sharks exhibit site-fidelity and higher relative abundance in marine reserves on the Mesoamerican Barrier reef. PLoS ONE, 7(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0032983

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