Marine Biology

, 166:68 | Cite as

Interspecific interactions, movement patterns and habitat use in a diverse coastal shark assemblage

  • Michelle R. HeupelEmail author
  • Samantha E. M. Munroe
  • Elodie J. I. Lédée
  • Andrew Chin
  • Colin A. Simpfendorfer
Original Paper


Sharks are a highly diverse predatory taxon and are regularly found in large, potentially competitive, assemblages. However, the mechanisms that enable long-term coexistence and factors that drive complementary movement are poorly understood. As interspecific interactions can have a large influence on survival and trophic linkages, research on shark assemblages could substantially increase our understanding of marine community dynamics. In this study, we used passive acoustic telemetry to compare the activity space size, spatial overlap and habitat use patterns of six co-occurring shark species from the same family in a tropical nearshore embayment. Our results indicated that all sizes of Rhizoprionodon taylori (a small-bodied, highly productive species) used significantly larger amounts of space (e.g., mean 95% KUD = 85.9 km2) than juveniles of large-bodied, less productive species (e.g., Carcharhinus amboinensis; 62.3 km2) that use nearshore areas as nursery areas. Most large, less productive species appeared risk averse by using less space, while the smaller more productive species took greater risk by roaming broadly. These movement strategies are likely a means of avoiding predation or gaining access to new or additional resources. Spatial overlap patterns varied substantially between species with overlap in core use areas ranging from 1.2 to 27.6%, but were consistent over time. Most species exhibited low spatial overlap, suggesting spatial partitioning to reduce interspecific competition. While a few species exhibited a high degree of spatial overlap (up to 60% of activity space extent), dietary diversity may reduce competition to support co-occurrence. These data suggest that complex interactions occur in communal nurseries in nearshore waters where species are in direct competition for resources at vulnerable life stages.



We thank all the staff and students at the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture and the countless volunteers for their assistance, especially D Knip.


Funding for this research was provided by the Australian Research Council and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) awarded to MRH and CAS; additional support was provided by the National Environmental Research Program awarded to CAS.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All research was conducted in accordance with James Cook University (JCU) animal ethics permit A1566 and Great Barrier Reef (G11/346181.1) and QDAF (144482) permits for animal collection.

Supplementary material

227_2019_3511_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (242 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 242 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle R. Heupel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Samantha E. M. Munroe
    • 2
    • 3
  • Elodie J. I. Lédée
    • 2
    • 4
  • Andrew Chin
    • 2
  • Colin A. Simpfendorfer
    • 2
  1. 1.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture and College of Science and EngineeringJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.TERN Ecosystem Surveillance Monitoring, School of Biological SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Ottawa-Carleton Institute for BiologyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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