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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13269

Long-term monitoring provides insight into estuarine top predator (Carcharhinus leucas) resilience following an extreme weather event

Philip Matich*, Bradley A. Strickland, Michael R. Heithaus

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Chronic environmental change threatens biodiversity, but acute disturbance events present more rapid and immediate threats. In 2010, a cold snap across south Florida had wide-ranging impacts, including negative effects on recreational fisheries, agriculture, and ecological communities. Here, we use acoustic telemetry and historical longline monitoring to assess the long-term implications of this event on juvenile bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas in the Florida Everglades. Despite the loss of virtually all individuals within the Shark River Estuary during the cold snap (ca. 90%), the catch per unit effort (CPUE) of age 0 sharks on longlines recovered through recruitment within 6–8 months of the event. Acoustic telemetry revealed that habitat use patterns of age 0–2 sharks reached an equilibrium in 4–6 years. In contrast, the CPUE and habitat use of age 3 sharks required 5–7 years to resemble pre-cold snap patterns. Environmental conditions and predation risk returned to previous levels within one year of the cold snap, but abundances of some prey species remained depressed for several years. Reduced prey availability may have altered the profitability of some microhabitats after the cold snap, leading to more rapid ontogenetic shifts to marine waters among sharks for several years. Accelerated ontogenetic shifts coupled with inter-individual behavioral variability of bull sharks likely led to a slower recovery rate than predicted based on overall shark CPUE. While intrinsic variation driven by stochasticity in dynamic ecosystems may increase the resistance of species to chronic and acute disturbance, it may also increase recovery time in filling the diversity of niches occupied prior to disturbance if resistive capacity is exceeded.