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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Chantel Elston.

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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

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Keywords

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