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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Climate sensitivity of a shark nursery habitat

Daniel P. Crear*, Robert J. Latour, Marjorie A. M. Friedrichs, Pierre St-Laurent, Kevin C. Weng

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Nursery area habitats such as estuaries are vital for the success of many fish populations. Climate change is altering conditions in these areas, which can thus impact the availability of suitable nursery habitat. The sandbar shark Carcharhinus plumbeus uses Chesapeake Bay as a nursery habitat during the summer months from birth up to 10 yr of age. To assess the impacts of climate change on juvenile sandbar sharks, we developed a habitat model using longline data collected from a fishery independent survey within Chesapeake Bay. With this model we projected contemporary and future distributions of juvenile sandbar shark suitable habitat in Chesapeake Bay under varying environmental regimes. Predicted suitable juvenile sandbar shark habitat was negatively impacted by future increases in temperature, but positively influenced by future decreases in dissolved oxygen. The latter trend was likely related to the habitat partitioning that occurs between different life stages. Changes in salinity had relatively small impacts. By end-of-century the amount of projected suitable bottom habitat decreased; however, when incorporating the entire water column, projected suitable habitat increased. This suggests that juvenile sandbar sharks may need to make a behavioral shift to avoid non-preferred conditions, which could alter their foraging ecology or refuge strategies. As nursery habitats change with climate change it is crucial to understand how a species may be impacted during this vital life stage when trying to predict overall species success in the future.