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Resolution of the Aetomylaeus nichofii species complex, with the description of a new eagle ray species from the northwest Indian Ocean and a key to the genus Aetomylaeus (Myliobatiformes: Myliobatidae)

Abstract

In recent years, the eagle ray family Myliobatidae has undergone major taxonomic revisions due to molecular and morphological findings. A new species of eagle ray, Aetomylaeus wafickii sp. nov., is described based on specimens collected from the Arabian Gulf, Northwest Indian Ocean. The new species externally most closely resembles A. caeruleofasciatus White, Last, & Baje, 2015 in White et al. 2016 and A. nichofii (Bloch & Schneider, 1801). It can be distinguished from these species by a combination of morphological and meristic characteristics including a higher number of transverse pale bluish to light grey bands on its dorsal surface (8–10 in Aetomylaeus wafickii sp. nov. vs 5–8 in A. caeruleofasciatus and A. nichofii), a higher number of tooth plate rows (13–15 vs 7), a shorter upper tooth plate width (3.1–4.3 vs 4.6–7.5%DW), and a shorter tail ((0.9–1.6) vs (1.4–1.8)) times disc width. Pelvic fin radial counts separate the new species from A. nichofii for males (14–16 vs 16–19) and females (16–19 vs 20–21). Geographically, it occurs from the southern Red Sea, eastwards to the Arabian Sea, and south to Sri Lanka, including in the Arabian Gulf. It appears to be frequently caught as bycatch in gillnets due to its habit of schooling, and is considered particularly susceptible to impacts from regional fisheries. Morphological and meristic findings complement prior molecular evidence documenting three species within the A. nichofii complex. A key to the genus Aetomylaeus is provided for the first time.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi management for supporting and funding the Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey. We gratefully acknowledge the support and involvement of the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research team (NIWA) especially Neil Bagley, Keith Michael, Peter Marriott, Peter McMillan, Darren Stevens, and Warrick Lyon for collecting specimens while at sea and Nestor Cordero Deatras from Dubai Municipality for providing additional samples. Special thanks go to Shamsa M. Al Hameli for help with laboratory work, fixing and shipping specimens, and taking pictures (upper and lower tooth photos). Also thanks to Marsha Englebrecht for supporting us with the laboratory work and taking the whole specimens pictures. We are also grateful to Dave Catania and Jon Fong at the California Academy of Sciences for facilitating the transfer of specimens and providing access to other materials examined and the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital for providing us with Xrays of specimens. We finally thank Gavin Naylor for constructive comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript, Will White for sharing pictures of Aetomylaeus nichofii and A. caeruleofasciatus, and two anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved the manuscript.

Funding

This project was funded by the Environment Agency—Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity provided support for this project.

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Correspondence to Rima W. Jabado.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for care and use of animals were followed by the authors.

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All necessary permits for sampling and observational field studies have been obtained by the authors from the competent authorities and are mentioned in the acknowledgements, if applicable. This study is compliant with CBD and Nagoya protocols.

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RWJ and DAE conceived and designed the research, RWJ and DAE conducted the examinations, RWJ and DAE wrote the initial version of the manuscript, and revised it. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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This article is registered in ZooBank under http://zoobank.org/90D767A1-DD5F-4A20-A1CC-4E8723B534FC

The species is registered in ZooBank under http://zoobank.org/B2C845C8-2CE5-47A5-B411-5D942A19BC59

This article is a contribution to the Topical Collection Systematics and Biodiversity of Indian Ocean Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras (Chondrichthyes).

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Jabado, R.W., Ebert, D.A. & Al Dhaheri, S.S. Resolution of the Aetomylaeus nichofii species complex, with the description of a new eagle ray species from the northwest Indian Ocean and a key to the genus Aetomylaeus (Myliobatiformes: Myliobatidae). Mar. Biodivers. 52, 15 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12526-021-01234-4

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Keywords

  • Chondrichthyes
  • Elasmobranch
  • Batoid
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Arabian Gulf
  • New species