Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 101, Issue 1, pp 137–151 | Cite as

Age and growth assessment of western North Atlantic spiny butterfly ray Gymnura altavela (L. 1758) using computed tomography of vertebral centra

  • K. T. ParsonsEmail author
  • J. Maisano
  • J. Gregg
  • C. F. Cotton
  • R. J. Latour


Life history strategies of batoid fishes have evolved within dynamic marine ecosystems. Adaptations in reproductive and developmental biology are paramount to the survival of species, and therefore knowledge of growth rates to maturity is fundamental for identifying constraints on the conservation of populations. The butterfly rays (Myliobatiformes: Gymnuridae) are highly derived batoids with generally low reproductive potentials for which age and growth information remains unknown. In this study we applied high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (HRXCT) to vertebral centra from a stingray for the first time to estimate age, and used a multimodel approach to investigate growth of spiny butterfly ray, Gymnura altavela. Estimated ages of the oldest male and female were 11 and 18 yrs. at disk widths (WD) 1355 mm and 2150 mm, respectively. Disk width-at-age data were analyzed using three growth models (von Bertalanffy, logistic, Gompertz), and the most parsimonious and empirically supported model was the logistic function with sex treated as a fixed effect on asymptotic disk width (WD ) and k parameters. Model parameter estimates were (males) WD  = 1285.46 ± 67.27 mm, k = 0.60 ± 0.10, and (females) WD  = 2173.51 ± 129.78 mm, k = 0.27 ± 0.04. Results indicated sexually dimorphic growth patterns, with males growing faster and reaching asymptotic size at earlier ages than females. These age and growth results are the first reported for the genus, and suggest that G. altavela grows at a similar rate as some teleosts and batoids, and relatively fast among chondrichthyans.


Myliobatiformes Gymnuridae HRXCT Growth coefficient Logistic growth model 



We thank the staff of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) Survey Programs (ChesMMAP, NEAMAP, VASMAP, Juvenile Fish and Blue Crab Survey) and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Multispecies Bottom Trawl Survey for providing specimens for this study. We are grateful to Captains Jimmy Ruhle, Durand Ward and John Olney Jr. for their contributions to vessel operations, and John Galbraith for ensuring access to exceptionally large specimens. We also recognize Julia White and Kamila Aguiar Gabaldo for their assistance with processing vertebrae and HRXCT images. Thanks to M. Kolmann, J. McDowell, and E. Hilton for reviewing previous versions of this paper. Funding for VIMS Survey Programs was provided by: NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office, the Virginia Environmental Endowment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (ChesMMAP); the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEAMAP); NOAA Fisheries (Silver Spring, MD) (VASMAP); the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (Juvenile Fish and Blue Crab Survey). This is contribution number 3674 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary.

Compliance with ethical standards

Field work and sampling were conducted in compliance with protocols approved by the College of William & Mary Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. T. Parsons
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Maisano
    • 2
  • J. Gregg
    • 1
  • C. F. Cotton
    • 3
  • R. J. Latour
    • 1
  1. 1.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceCollege of William & MaryGloucester PointUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geological SciencesThe University of TexasAustinUSA
  3. 3.Florida State University Coastal and Marine LaboratorySt. TeresaUSA

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