Diversity, abundance, and distribution of reef sharks on outer-shelf reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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- Rizzari, J.R., Frisch, A.J. & Magnenat, K.A. Mar Biol (2014) 161: 2847. doi:10.1007/s00227-014-2550-3
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Quantifying the distribution and habitat use of sharks is critical for understanding their ecological role and for establishing appropriate conservation and management regimes. On coral reefs, particularly the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), little is known regarding the distribution of sharks across major reef habitat types. In this study, we surveyed shark populations across outer-shelf reefs of the GBR in order to determine the diversity, abundance, and distribution of reef sharks across three major coral reef habitats: (1) the reef slope, (2) the back reef and (3) the reef flat. Model selection revealed that habitat was the principal factor influencing shark distribution and abundance. Specifically, overall shark abundance and diversity were significantly higher on the reef slope (and to a lesser degree, the back reef) than the reef flat. This confirms that shark populations are not homogeneously distributed across coral reefs. Thus, the results presented herein have important implications for shark population assessments. In addition, our results highlight the potential importance of the reef slope, with high levels of live coral cover and structural complexity, for sustaining reef shark populations. As this habitat is highly susceptible to disturbance events, this study provides a useful context for predicting and understanding how environmental degradation may influence reef shark populations in the future.