Towed-float satellite telemetry tracks large-scale movement and habitat connectivity of myliobatid stingrays
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- Ajemian, M.J. & Powers, S.P. Environ Biol Fish (2014) 97: 1067. doi:10.1007/s10641-014-0296-x
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Batoids are important mesopredators whose high mobility and extensive migrations can link seemingly distant food webs in coastal ecosystems. Despite this recognition, our knowledge of the movement patterns of many species is limited due to the logistical challenge of tracking these animals on multiple scales. Smart Positioning or Temperature (SPOT) satellite-linked transmitters allow for precise, multi-scale tracking of species that regularly use surface waters. To date, SPOTs have been predominantly used on sharks, with only a single application to a batoid. Given the epipelagic nature of myliobatid stingrays, we examined the potential for towed-float SPOT transmitters to monitor large-scale movements of two representative species: the Cownose Ray (Rhinoptera bonasus; n = 15) and Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari; n = 9). Tracking data identified several consistent outmigration patterns of Cownose Rays along the Mississippi-Alabama shelf and seasonal variation in movement rates along barrier island habitats. We also documented sex-related differences in movement rates and habitat use of Spotted Eagle Rays along the Bermuda platform, where males exhibited significantly higher movement rates than females and more transient behavior between inshore lagoons and outer coral reefs. Both Cownose and Spotted Eagle Rays were shown to exhibit connectivity among several habitat types along continental shelves in their respective locales, demonstrating future challenges to the management of these species over large spatial scales. While reductions in tag size and improved tethering techniques would undoubtedly broaden the applicability of towed-float satellite telemetry to other species and sizes, our work highlights the strong potential for this technology to provide insights into the spatial ecology and habitat use of myliobatid rays.