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Distribution of sea snakes in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park: observations from 10 yrs of baited remote underwater video station (BRUVS) sampling

Abstract

The distributions of three species of sea snake (olive sea snake: Aipysurus laevis, spine-bellied sea snake: Lapemis curtus, and ornate sea snake: Hydrophis ocellatus) were estimated over 14° of latitude within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) using data from baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS). A total of 2,471 deployments of BRUVS were made in a range of locations, in sites open and closed to trawl fishing. Sightings of sea snakes were analysed alongside six spatial factors [depth, relative distance across (longitude) and along (latitude) the GBRMP, proximity to land, proximity to the nearest reef, and habitat complexity] to determine the factors that most strongly influenced the distribution and abundance of sea snakes. The results showed a strong latitudinal effect on the distribution of all three sea snake species, with the highest densities and diversities occurring in central and southern GBRMP locations, while the northern Great Barrier Reef was relatively depauperate in terms of both occurrence and diversity. Shallow inshore areas were identified as key habitats for A. laevis and L. curtus, whereas deeper offshore habitats were most important for H. ocellatus. No significant difference was found in the mean number of snakes sighted per hour between sites open and closed to trawling. There was a high degree of congruence in the distribution of sea snakes estimated from the BRUVS data and results from previous trawl and underwater visual surveys, demonstrating the utility of BRUVS to estimate distribution and relative abundance in these species of sea snake at broad spatial scales in a non-extractive manner.

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Acknowledgments

This study is an output of the ‘Great Barrier Reef Seabed Biodiversity Project’ collaboration between the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPIF), and the Queensland Museum (QM). The project was funded by the CRC Reef Research Centre, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), and the National Oceans Office, and led by Drs. R. Pitcher (Principal Investigator, CSIRO), P. Doherty (AIMS), J. Hooper (QM) and N. Gribble (QDPIF). The authors would like to thank Y. Chornobil for assistance with confirming snake identification and M. Espinosa for assistance with habitat classification. We sincerely thank A. Harborne, T. Lynch and an anonymous reviewer who made numerous constructive suggestions to improve this manuscript. The primary author is currently supported by a National Environmental Research Program (NERP) postgraduate scholarship.

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Correspondence to Vinay Udyawer.

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Communicated by Ecology Editor Dr. Alastair Harborne

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338_2014_1152_MOESM1_ESM.eps

Supplementary material 1 Sequential plots represent the standard deviation of the area-weighted catch per unit effort pooled within each 50-km2 grid within the GBRWHA for (a) Aipysurus laevis, (b) Lapemis curtus, (c) Hydrophis ocellatus and (d) ‘other species’ (EPS 14188 kb)

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Udyawer, V., Cappo, M., Simpfendorfer, C.A. et al. Distribution of sea snakes in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park: observations from 10 yrs of baited remote underwater video station (BRUVS) sampling. Coral Reefs 33, 777–791 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-014-1152-3

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Keywords

  • BRUVS
  • Spatial distribution
  • Sea snakes
  • Multivariate regression tree
  • Boosted regression tree
  • Zero-inflated model