Using baited remote underwater videos to characterize chondrichthyan communities

Published on
04. December 2019

Using baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) to characterize chondrichthyan communities in a global biodiversity hotspot

Geoffrey J. Osgood, Meaghen E. McCord, Julia K. Baum


Threatened chondrichthyan diversity is high in developing countries where scarce resources, limited data, and minimal stakeholder support often render conservation efforts challenging. As such, data on many species, including many evolutionarily distinct endemics, is poor in these countries and their conservation status and habitat needs remain uncertain. Here, we used baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs; n = 419) conducted at 167 sites over two years to assess the frequency of occurrence (FO), relative abundance, diversity, and structure of chondrichthyan assemblages in one of the world’s chondrichthyan biodiversity and endemism hotspots, South Africa. We compared chondrichthyan assemblages across three habitat types, and between unprotected and protected areas (a small marine protected area [MPA] and a larger, seasonal whale sanctuary). Although in total we observed 18 chondrichthyan species (11 families), over half of all observations were of just two species from the same family of mesopredatory endemic catsharks; only 8.8% were larger shark species. These mesopredatory species do not appear to be threatened, but some skates and larger shark species, including some endemics, were much rarer. Overall chondrichthyan FO was high (81% of all BRUVs); FO was higher in kelp (100% of BRUVS) and reef (93%) sites than at sites in sandy habitat (63%), which had a distinct chondrichthyan community. Independent of habitat, the chondrichthyan community did not relate strongly to protection. Because sites with kelp and reef habitat were rare in the whale sanctuary, this protected area had a lower chondrichthyan FO (67% of BRUVs) than either unprotected sites (81%) or those in the small MPA (98%), as well as having lower chondrichthyan relative abundance and species richness. Our study provides evidence of the importance of distinct habitat types to different chondrichthyan species, and suggests that even small MPAs can protect critical habitats, such that they may provide safe refuge for endemic species as anthropogenic pressures increase.

PLoS ONE 14(12): e0225859. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225859


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