Reproductive philopatry in a coastal shark drives age-related population structure

Published on
31. January 2019

Reproductive philopatry in a coastal shark drives age-related population structure

Juliana D. Klein, Aletta E. Bester-van der Merwe, Matt L. Dicken, Kolobe L. Mmonwa, Peter R. Teske


The cosmopolitan lamniform shark Carcharias taurus (commonly known as the ragged-tooth, grey nurse or sand tiger shark) is threatened by overexploitation in parts of its range. Return migrations of females to specific nursery areas suggest that females exhibit reproductive philopatry, a behaviour that over time might lead to genetically isolated subpopulations over various spatial scales. To investigate genetic evidence for reproductive philopatry, genetic data from mitochondrial and microsatellite markers were generated for 104 young-of-the-year and juvenile sharks. Comparing the smallest versus the largest young sharks revealed a pattern of size-related differentiation between nurseries that was only found in the smaller size class. This not only confirms reproductive philopatry of their mothers, but is also in line with previous observations of larger juvenile sharks increasing their migration range and moving between sites. Our results highlight the need to target young-of-the-year sharks when investigating reproductive philopatry to exclude roaming individuals that obscure size-related signals of genetic differentiation. Given the species’ high susceptibility to overexploitation, the evidence for reproductive philopatry is of direct importance to the management and conservation of C. taurus worldwide. As many nursery areas as possible should be protected to ensure that the number of locally resident juveniles and the pool of the returning females remain stable in the long term. This may warrant protected areas, or time-area closures, prohibiting exploitation in the nursery areas during pupping season.

Mar Biol (2019) 166: 26. DOI 10.1007/s00227-019-3467-7


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