Elasmobranch Community Dynamics in Florida’s Southern Indian River Lagoon

Published on
18. July 2020

Elasmobranch Community Dynamics in Florida’s Southern Indian River Lagoon

Grace Roskar, Michael P. McCallister, Adam M. Schaefer, Matthew J. Ajemian


Many elasmobranch species utilize estuaries as nurseries, parturition areas, and foraging grounds. Florida’s Indian River Lagoon (IRL), an “estuary of national significance,” has experienced many anthropogenic impacts in recent decades, such as habitat degradation and declining water quality, and there is a substantial data gap surrounding the status of elasmobranchs in this system. A fishery-independent survey (longline/gillnet) was implemented to characterize the elasmobranch community and understand distribution patterns and habitat use in the IRL (Sebastian to St. Lucie Inlet). From July 2016 to June 2018, 630 individuals of 16 species were caught and tagged, including two critically endangered smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata. Bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas and Atlantic stingrays Hypanus sabinus were the two most common species collected (47% of the total catch), and size differences by region were observed. The longline catch exhibited a significant difference in species composition among regions while the gillnet catch composition significantly varied among seasons. Although dependent on survey gear type, there was evidence of combinations of abiotic parameters (e.g., depth, salinity, water clarity, distance to a freshwater source, distance to an inlet) driving elasmobranch species composition. Bull sharks and Atlantic stingrays dominated areas with frequently low salinities while more diverse assemblages of species were apparent towards inlet passes. This study provides the first in-depth analysis of the elasmobranch community in the IRL and develops capacity to understand how these species may respond to further environmental changes in this highly impacted estuary.

Estuaries and Coasts (2020). DOI: 10.1007/s12237-020-00804-2


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