MEPS 602:197-211 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12686

Migratory connectivity and philopatry of cownose rays Rhinoptera bonasus along the Atlantic coast, USA

Matthew B. Ogburn1,*, Charles W. Bangley1, Robert Aguilar1, Robert A. Fisher2, Mary Carla Curran3, Sarah Fae Webb3, Anson H. Hines1

1Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, 647 Contees Wharf Road, Edgewater, MD 21037, USA
2Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, PO Box 1346, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
3Savannah State University, Box 20467, Savannah, GA 31404, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Migratory species link spatially separated ecosystems, and understanding their migrations is critical for conservation and management. The cownose ray Rhinoptera bonasus is a large-bodied batoid ray implicated in shellfish declines along the US Atlantic coast, but its migrations and habitat use remain poorly understood. We used passive acoustic telemetry to track tagged adult female (N = 27) and male (N = 9) rays released during summer and fall 2014-2016 in Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia. Twenty-three tags provided data for more than 1 yr. Individuals from all tagging locations overwintered in the same region offshore of Cape Canaveral, Florida, then returned in summer to the estuaries where tagging took place. Hidden Markov modeling identified 3 behavioral states (Resident, Ranging, Migratory), with ray movements generally classified as non-migratory (Resident and Ranging behavioral states) in summer and winter, and migratory (Migratory behavioral state) in spring and fall. Linear discriminant analysis suggested strong philopatry to tagging locations. This study provides the first full annual migration tracks for cownose rays along the US Atlantic coast, indicating that they migrate between summer pupping and mating habitats in estuaries south of Long Island, New York, and shared overwintering habitats off the east coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral. Our results highlight the value of national-scale networks of acoustic telemetry arrays for identifying migratory patterns of highly mobile marine species.


KEY WORDS: Migration · Connectivity · Behavior · Acoustic telemetry · Philopatry · Fisheries management · Conservation · Rhinoptera bonasus


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Cite this article as: Ogburn MB, Bangley CW, Aguilar R, Fisher RA, Curran MC, Webb SF, Hines AH (2018) Migratory connectivity and philopatry of cownose rays Rhinoptera bonasus along the Atlantic coast, USA. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 602:197-211. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12686

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