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Habitat partitioning among four elasmobranch species in nearshore, shallow waters of a subtropical embayment in Western Australia


There is a need to explore, in an integrated and statistical manner, how the number of species, relative abundance, species composition and life-cycle stages of elasmobranchs in nearshore waters vary among habitat types and during the year. Therefore, four sites in a large marine embayment, each representing a different habitat type, were sampled at regular intervals. These sites were: (1) unvegetated, with no vegetation within at least 200 m; (2) unvegetated, immediately adjacent to sparse mangroves; (3) unvegetated, immediately adjacent to dense mangroves; and (4) vegetated, with seagrass (Posidonia australis) throughout and in the vicinity. Gill netting caught 10 shark species (5 families), 5 ray species (4 families) and 12 teleost species (10 families). Carcharhinus cautus, which contributed approximately 60% to the numbers of elasmobranchs caught, completed its life cycle in nearshore, shallow waters. Negaprion acutidens, Carcharhinus brevipinna, Carcharhinus limbatus and Rhizoprionodon acutus used these waters as a nursery area. C. cautus was caught mainly in the unvegetated sites, particularly in those near mangroves. N. acutidens was caught entirely in unvegetated sites, while R. acutus, C. brevipinna and Chiloscyllium punctatum were caught predominantly or exclusively in seagrass. The mean number of species and mean catch rate of elasmobranchs were greatest for the seagrass site and least for the unvegetated site with no vegetation within at least 200 m and were significantly less for the latter site than for the unvegetated site immediately adjacent to dense mangroves (P<0.05). The numbers of species and catch rates of elasmobranchs were significantly greater in summer and autumn than in winter (P<0.05) and, in the case of number of species, also than in spring (P<0.05). We conclude that the spatial and food resources in the nearshore, shallow waters of Shark Bay are partitioned among elasmobranch species, thus reducing the potential for competition among these species for the resources in those waters.

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Gratitude is expressed particularly to D. Fairclough, A. Hesp, S. de Lestang, M. Taylor and D. Thorburn for their help with sampling, to N. Hall and G. Young for statistical advice, and to D. Fairclough for constructive criticism of the text. Financial support was provided by Murdoch University, the Western Australian Department of Fisheries and the Australian Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Animal usage was approved by the Murdoch University Animal Ethics Committee (permits 634R and 860R).

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Correspondence to I. C. Potter.

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Communicated by G.F. Humphrey, Sydney

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White, W.T., Potter, I.C. Habitat partitioning among four elasmobranch species in nearshore, shallow waters of a subtropical embayment in Western Australia. Marine Biology 145, 1023–1032 (2004).

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  • Habitat Type
  • Catch Rate
  • Nursery Area
  • Teleost Species
  • Nearshore Water