Long-Term Changes in Species Composition and Relative Abundances of Sharks at a Provisioning SitePublished on 23. January 2014
Long-Term Changes in Species Composition and Relative Abundances of Sharks at a Provisioning Site
Juerg M. Brunnschweiler, Kátya G. Abrantes, Adam Barnett
Diving with sharks, often in combination with food baiting/provisioning, has become an important product of today’s recreational dive industry. Whereas the effects baiting/provisioning has on the behaviour and abundance of individual shark species are starting to become known, there is an almost complete lack of equivalent data from multi-species shark diving sites. In this study, changes in species composition and relative abundances were determined at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, a multi-species shark feeding site in Fiji. Using direct observation sampling methods, eight species of sharks (bull shark Carcharhinus leucas, grey reef shark Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, whitetip reef shark Triaenodon obesus, blacktip reef shark Carcharhinus melanopterus, tawny nurse shark Nebrius ferrugineus, silvertip shark Carcharhinus albimarginatus, sicklefin lemon shark Negaprion acutidens, and tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvier) displayed inter-annual site fidelity between 2003 and 2012. Encounter rates and/or relative abundances of some species changed over time, overall resulting in more individuals (mostly C. leucas) of fewer species being encountered on average on shark feeding dives at the end of the study period. Differences in shark community composition between the years 2004–2006 and 2007–2012 were evident, mostly because N. ferrugineus, C. albimarginatus and N. acutidens were much more abundant in 2004–2006 and very rare in the period of 2007–2012. Two explanations are offered for the observed changes in relative abundances over time, namely inter-specific interactions and operator-specific feeding protocols. Both, possibly in combination, are suggested to be important determinants of species composition and encounter rates, and relative abundances at this shark provisioning site in Fiji. This study, which includes the most species from a spatially confined shark provisioning site to date, suggests that long-term provisioning may result in competitive exclusion among shark species.
PLoS ONE 9(1): e86682. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086682