Movement patterns of juvenile porcupine rays Urogymnus asperrimus at a remote atoll: a potential nursery ground within a proposed marine protected area


Marine protected areas (MPAs) can provide distinct conservation benefits for threatened species, particularly in regions where there is a lack of population assessments. The St. Joseph Atoll, Seychelles, has been under consideration for MPA designation due to the presence of multiple threatened and important species. This study aimed to assess the nursery role of this isolated ecosystem for Vulnerable (IUCN) porcupine rays Urogymnus asperrimus. Twenty porcupine rays were tagged with VEMCO transmitters and their movements passively monitored for a 2.5-year period using an array of 88 acoustic receivers. The majority (71%) of porcupine rays displayed medium (RI: 0.34–0.66) to high (RI: 0.67–1) levels of residency and 82% of individuals were detected in the atoll for periods close to or exceeding one year. Horizontal movements were limited as small home ranges and activity spaces were identified (mean of 0.65km2 and 4.35km2 respectively). General linear mixed models highlighted that home range size increased with disc-width and that there was dispersal from the atoll over time. These results have implications for the proposed marine protected area at the St. Joseph Atoll and suggests that protecting this habitat will provide strong conservation benefits for this poorly understood species.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 199

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


  1. Aché De Freitas RH, Rosa RS, Wetherbee BM, Gruber SH (2009) Population size and survivorship for juvenile lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) on their nursery grounds at a marine protected area in Brazil. Neotrop Icthyol 7:205–212

  2. Anderson DR, Burnham KP (2002) Avoiding pitfalls when using information-theoretic methods. J Wildl Manag:912–918

  3. Bates DM (2010) lme4: mixed-effects modeling with R. Springer 67, 1–48. Available at: Accessed June 2015

  4. Bizzarro JJ, Smith WD, Márquez-Farías JF, Hueter RE (2007) Artisanal fisheries and reproductive biology of the golden cownose ray, Rhinoptera steindachneri Evermann and Jenkins, 1891, in the northern Mexican Pacific. Fish Res 84:137–146

  5. Bizzarro JJ et al. (2009) The status of shark and ray fishery resources in the Gulf of California : applied research to improve management and conservation. Moss Landing Marine Laboratories Tech Pub 1, 243. Available at: Accessed Aug 2015

  6. Branstetter, S., (1990). Early life-history implications of selected carcharhinoid and lamnoid sharks of the Northwest Atlantic. NOAA Technical Report NMFS90, 17–28

  7. Calenge C (2006) The package “adehabitat” for the R software: a tool for the analysis of space and habitat use by animals. Ecol Model 197:516–519

  8. Camhi M, Fowler S, Musick J, Bräutigam A, Fordham S (1998) Sharks and their ecology and conservation

  9. Carrier J, Musick J, Heithaus M (2010) Sharks and Their Relatives II: Biodiversity, Adaptive Physiology, and Conservation. CRC Press, Boca Raton

  10. Castro JI (1993) The shark nursery of Bulls Bay, South Carolina , with a review of the shark nurseries of the southeastern coast of the United States. In The reproduction and development of sharks, skates, rays and ratfishes. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 37–48

  11. Cerutti-Pereyra F et al (2014) Restricted movements of juvenile rays in the lagoon of Ningaloo reef, Western Australia - evidence for the existence of a nursery. Environ Biol Fish 97:371–383

  12. Chapman DD et al (2009) Long-term natal site-fidelity by immature lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) at a subtropical island. Mol Ecol 18:3500–3507

  13. Chapman DD, Feldheim KA, Papastamatiou YP, Hueter RE (2015) There and Back again: a review of residency and return migrations in sharks, with implications for population structure and management. Annu Rev Mar Sci 7:547–570

  14. Chin A (2014) “Hunting porcupines”: citizen scientists contribute new knowledge about rare coral reef species. Pac Conserv Biol 20:48–53

  15. Chin A, Compagno LJ (2016) Urogymnus asperrimus. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available at: Accessed 17 Nov 2016

  16. Chin A, Kyne PM, Walker TI, McAuley RB (2010) An integrated risk assessment for climate change: Analysing the vulnerability of sharks and rays on Australia’s great barrier reef. Glob Chang Biol 16:1936–1953

  17. Clarke TM, Espinoza M, Wehrtmann IS (2014) Reproductive ecology of demersal elasmobranchs from a data-deficient fishery, Pacific of Costa Rica, Central America. Fish Res 157, 96–105. Available at:

  18. Cortes E (2002) Uncertainty into incorporating modeling : application their conservation. Conserv Biol 16:1048–1062

  19. Dale JJ, Wallsgrove NJ, Popp BN, Holland KN (2011) Nursery habitat use and foraging ecology of the brown stingray Dasyatis lata determined from stomach contents, bulk and amino acid stable isotopes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 433:221–236

  20. Deangelis BM, Mccandless CT, Kohler NE, Recksiek CW, Skomal GB (2008) First characterization of shark nursery habitat in the United States Virgin Islands : evidence of habitat partitioning by two shark species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 358:257–271

  21. Dulvy NK et al (2014) Extinction risk and conservation of the world ’ s sharks and rays. eLife:1–35

  22. Espinoza M, Munroe SEM, Clarke TM, Fisk AT, Wehrtmann IS (2015) Feeding ecology of common demersal elasmobranch species in the Pacific coast of Costa Rica inferred from stable isotope and stomach content analyses. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 470:12–25

  23. Fangue NA, Bennett WA (2003) Thermal tolerance responses of laboratory acclimated and seasonally acclimatized Atlantic stingray, Dasyatis sabina. Copeia 2003:315–325

  24. Filmalter JD (2011) Movements of sub-adult sicklefin lemon sharks (Negaprion acutidens) in a remote Indian Ocean atoll. MSc thesis, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

  25. Filmalter JD, Dagorn L, Cowley PD (2013) Spatial behaviour and site fidelity of the sicklefin lemon shark Negaprion acutidens in a remote Indian Ocean atoll. Mar Biol 160:2425–2436

  26. Fowler SL et al. (2005) Sharks, rays and chimaeras: the status of the chondrichthyan fishes, Available at: Accessed Aug 2015

  27. Frisk MG (2010) Life history strategies of batoids. In ‘Sharks and Their Relatives II: Biodiversity, Adaptive Physiology, and Conservation’.(Eds JC Carrier, JA Musick and MR Heithaus.) pp 283–316

  28. Gaines SD, White C, Carr MH, Palumbi SR (2010) Designing marine reserve networks for both conservation and fisheries management. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107:18286–18293

  29. Grubbs RD, Musick JA, Conrath CL, Romine JG (2007) Long-term movements, migration, and temporal delineation of a summer nursery for juvenile sandbar sharks in the Chesapeake Bay region. Am Fish Soc Symp 50:87–107

  30. Harrison HB et al (2012) Report larval export from marine reserves and the recruitment benefit for fish and fisheries. Curr Biol 22:1023–1028

  31. Heupel MR, Hueter RE (2002) Importance of prey density in relation to the movement patterns of juvenile blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) within a coastal nursery area. Mar Freshw Res 53:543–550

  32. Heupel MR, Simpfendorfer CA (2014) Importance of environmental and biological drivers in the presence and space use of a reef-associated shark. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 496:47–57

  33. Heupel MR, Semmens JM, Hobday AJ (2006) Automated acoustic tracking of aquatic animals: scales, design and deployment of listening station arrays. Mar Freshw Res 57:113

  34. Heupel MR, Carlson JK, Simpfendorfer CA (2007) Shark nursery areas: concepts, definition, characterization and assumptions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 337:287–297

  35. Jit RB, Singha NK, Ali SMH (2012) Availability of vulnerable elasmranches in the marine water of Bangladesh. Bangladesh J Zool 40:221–229

  36. Kinney MJ, Simpfendorfer CA (2009) Reassessing the value of nursery areas to shark conservation and management. Conserv Lett 2:53–60

  37. Kock A, O’Riain MJ, Mauff K, Meÿer M, Kotze D, Griffiths C (2013) Residency, habitat use and sexual segregation of white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias in False Bay, South Africa. PLoS One 8

  38. Kramer DL, Chapman MR (1999) Implications of fish home range size and relocation for marine reserve function. Environ Biol Fish 55:65–79

  39. Last PR, Stevens JD (2009) Sharks and rays of Australia. CSIRO, Clayton

  40. Lea JSE, Humphries NE, von Brandis RG, Clarke CR, Sims DW (2016) Acoustic telemetry and network analysis reveal the space use of multiple reef predators and enhance marine protected area design. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 283

  41. Martins APB, Heupel MR, Chin A, Simpfendorfer CA (2018) Batoid nurseries: definition , use and importance. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 595:253–267

  42. Mortimer JA, Camille J, Boniface N (2011) Seasonality and status of nesting hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas) at D’Arros Island, Amirantes group, Seychelles. Chelon Conserv Biol 10:26–33

  43. Payet, R., (2014a). National Parks (D’Arros and St. Joseph special reserve) (designation) order, 2014. Available at: Accessed 6 Dec 2016

  44. Payet R (2014b) National Parks (D’Arros and St Joseph Special Reserve) Designation Repeal Order. Available at: Accessed 6 Dec 2016

  45. Piovano S, Clò S, Giacoma C (2010) Reducing longline bycatch: the larger the hook, the fewer the stingrays. Biol Conserv 143:261–264

  46. Simpfendorfer CA, Milward NE (1993) Utilisation of a tropical bay as a nursery area by sharks of the families Carcharhinidae and Sphyrnidae. Environ Biol Fish 37:337–345

  47. Simpfendorfer CA, Heupel MR, Hueter RE (2002) Estimation of short-term centers of activity from an array of omnidirectional hydrophones and its use in studying animal movements. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 59:23–32

  48. Smith WD, Cailliet GM, Cortés E (2008) Demography and elasticity of the diamond stingray, Dasyatis dipteura: parameter uncertainty and resilience to fishing pressure. Mar Freshw Res 59:575

  49. Speed CW, Field IC, Meekan MG, Bradshaw CJA (2010) Complexities of coastal shark movements and their implications for management. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 408:275–293

  50. Speed CW et al (2011) Spatial and temporal movement patterns of a multi-species coastal reef shark aggregation. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 429:261–275

  51. Springer S (1967) Social organization of shark populations. John Hopkins Press:149–174

  52. Stamoulis KA, Friedlander AM (2013) A seascape approach to investigating fish spillover across a marine protected area boundary in Hawai‘i. Fish Res 144:2–14

  53. Stoddart DR, Coe MJ, Fosberg FR (1979) D’Arros and St Joseph, Amirante Islands. Atoll Res Bull 223:1–48

  54. Temple AJ et al (2018) Marine megafauna interactions with small-scale fisheries in the southwestern Indian Ocean: a review of status and challenges for research and management. Rev Fish Biol Fish 28:89–115

  55. Theiss SM, Kyne PM, Chisholm LA (2010) Distribution of the porcupine ray Urogymnus asperrimus (Bloch & Schneider, 1801) in Australian waters, with new records from Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum: Cultural Heritage Series 55:101–105

  56. Tilley A (2011) Functional ecology of the southern stingray, Dasyatis americana. Bangor University, Bangor

  57. van Moorter B, Rolandsen CM, Basille M, Gaillard J (2016) Movement is the glue connecting home ranges and habitat selection. J Anim Ecol 85:21–31

  58. Vandeperre F et al (2011) Effects of no-take area size and age of marine protected areas on fisheries yields: a meta-analytical approach. Fish Fish 12:412–426

  59. von Brandis R (2014) Save our Seas Foundation - D’Arros Research Center annual report. Published by Save Our Seas Foundation, Switzerland

  60. Wetherbee BM, Gruber SH, Rosa RS (2007) Movement patterns of juvenile lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris within Atol das Rocas , Brazil : a nursery characterized by tidal extremes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 343:283–293

  61. White WT, Giles J, Dharmadi, Potter IC (2006) Data on the bycatch fishery and reproductive biology of mobulid rays (Myliobatiformes) in Indonesia. Fish Res 82:65–73

  62. Worm B, Branch TA (2012) The future of fish. Trends Ecol Evol 27:594–599

  63. Zuur AF, Ieno EN, Elphick CS (2010) A protocol for data exploration to avoid common statistical problems. Methods Ecol Evol 1:3–14

Download references


The authors gratefully acknowledge the Save Our Seas Foundation which provided the funds to carry out this study, as well as the National Research Foundation and South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity that provided additional funds. We also thank the staff and volunteers of the Save Our Seas Foundation – D’Arros Research Center (SOSF-DRC) for their assistance in the field and use of facilities and equipment, in particular, R. and C. Daly, K. Bullock, C. Boyes, D. Howell, R. Bennett and E. Moxham. Finally, we are grateful to J. Lea, Danah Divers and SOSF-DRC for the installation and maintenance of the receiver array as well as the downloading and maintenance of the database.

Author information

Correspondence to Chantel Elston.

Ethics declarations

All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Elston, C., Cowley, P.D. & von Brandis, R.G. Movement patterns of juvenile porcupine rays Urogymnus asperrimus at a remote atoll: a potential nursery ground within a proposed marine protected area. Environ Biol Fish 102, 1485–1498 (2019) doi:10.1007/s10641-019-00927-x

Download citation


  • Dasyatidae
  • Acoustic telemetry
  • Spatial ecology
  • St. Joseph Atoll