MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI:

Patterns of long-term climate variability and predation rates by a marine apex predator, the white shark Carcharodon carcharias

R. A. Skubel*, B. P. Kirtman, C. Fallows, N. Hammerschlag


ABSTRACT: Understanding potential responses of aquatic animals to climate variability is important given the wide-ranging implications of current and future climatic change scenarios. Here, we used long-term data from natural predator–prey interactions between white sharks Carcharodon carcharias and Cape fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus in False Bay, South Africa, paired with environmental monitoring to examine potential relationships between temperature variability and shark predation rates on seals. Based on generalized linear modelling of a dataset of 941 shark attacks on seals collected over 15 years (1999–2013) during the winter (May–September) season, we found water temperature was included as a significant predictor of daily and monthly variability in predation rates. However, the signal of temporal variability over the season emerged as a more predominant predictor. Moreover, inter-annual variability in predation rate appeared linked to other environmental factors (wind, water visibility, and the occurrence of El Niño and La Niña events) rather than water temperature. These data suggest that water temperatures on an intra-annual scale might contribute to predation patterns in white sharks either directly or indirectly (e.g. due to associated changes in prey availability), but do not implicate water temperature as a primary driver in this scenario or at an interannual scale. It is possible that (1) metabolic demand of white sharks may be modulated against temperature variability by their partially endothermic nature, and (2) predation patterns of white sharks on seals are the result of a complex interplay between ambient physical conditions, and broader oceanographic, biological, and ecological factors.