Dermal denticle shedding rates vary between two captive shark species

Published on
20. January 2022

Dermal denticle shedding rates vary between two captive shark species

Erin M. Dillon, Anshika Bagla, Kiera D. Plioplys, Douglas J. McCauley, Kevin D. Lafferty, Aaron O’Dea


Shark dermal scale (denticle) accumulation in the fossil record can provide information about the abundance and composition of past shark communities. Denticles are shed continuously, such that a single shark leaves a scattered composite of many isolated denticles in sediments. However, the rate of denticle shedding as well as how these rates vary among shark species with different life modes and their consistency over time are unknown, limiting the interpretation of denticle assemblages. To better understand the process of denticle shedding and calibrate the relationship between absolute shark abundance in the environment and denticle deposition in sediments, we captured denticles shed by 2 shark species in a large aquarium over 9 mo. We then simulated how these aquarium-derived shedding rates shape the relationship between shark abundance and denticle accumulation. Bonnethead sharks Sphyrna tiburo, a more active, benthopelagic species with small, thin denticles, shed 3.6 times faster on average than zebra sharks Stegostoma fasciatum, a more sedentary, demersal species with large, robust denticles. This pattern persisted when shedding rates were corrected by estimated denticle quantities, shark space use, and methodological factors (2.2- to 3.8-fold difference). Over the study, bonnethead shark shedding rates declined while zebra shark shedding rates increased slightly. Finally, denticle assemblage composition corresponded with the relative abundance of denticles on the body of each species, consistent with natural shedding rather than selective loss. Overall, we show that shark taxa contribute unevenly to the denticle record, indicating that shedding rate measurements can help inform and constrain ecological interpretations of denticle assemblages.

Mar Ecol Prog Ser 682:153-167. DOI: 10.3354/meps13936


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