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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Thermally insensitive physiological performance allows neonatal sharks to use coastal habitats as nursery areas

Ian A. Bouyoucos*, Colin A. Simpfendorfer, Serge Planes, Gail D. Schwieterman, Ornella C. Weideli, Jodie L. Rummer

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Coastal sharks can use shallow, nearshore habitats as nursery areas, which is a behaviour that may increase fitness. The ecological benefits of shark nursery areas are well studied; yet the physiological mechanisms that enable sharks to exploit coastal habitats, especially those that experience extreme and dynamic temperatures, remain understudied. We hypothesised that neonatal sharks are able to use thermally dynamic coastal habitats as nursery areas because temperature does not strongly affect their physiology. To test this hypothesis, we defined patterns of nursery area use and temperature-dependent physiological performance in two reef shark species. First, we determined whether ten sites around the island of Moorea, French Polynesia satisfied nursery area criteria for neonate populations of blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and sicklefin lemon sharks (Negaprion acutidens) using five consecutive years of abundance surveys. We then quantified effects of thermal exposure in situ on growth in recaptured individuals and quantified the temperature dependence of metabolic rate ex situ using respirometry. We found several potential C. melanopterus nursery areas, but during different sampling years, and identified one N. acutidens nursery area that remained consistent during the entire five-year study. In support of our hypothesis, growth and metabolic performance were not strongly affected by temperature in either species. Thus, thermally insensitive physiological performance may be a trait that elasmobranchs exhibit in thermally variable coastal habitats, including shark nursery areas. Together, this approach demonstrates how physiological and ecological concepts complement each other to improve our understanding of nursery area use in coastal shark populations.