Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Abiotic affinities and spatiotemporal distribution of the endangered smalltooth sawfish, Pristis pectinata, in a south-western Florida nursery

Gregg R. Poulakis A B E , Philip W. Stevens A , Amy A. Timmers A , Tonya R. Wiley C and Colin A. Simpfendorfer D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Charlotte Harbor Field Laboratory, 585 Prineville Street, Port Charlotte, Florida 33954-1006, USA.

B Department of Marine and Environmental Systems, Florida Institute of Technology, 150 West University Boulevard, Melbourne, Florida 32901-6975, USA.

C Haven Worth Consulting, 3207 Ashe Creek Drive, League City, Texas 77573-1866, USA.

D Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: gregg.poulakis@MyFWC.com

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(10) 1165-1177 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF11008
Submitted: 15 January 2011  Accepted: 10 May 2011   Published: 12 August 2011

Abstract

Understanding how endangered marine species rely on coastal habitats is vital for population recovery planning. The smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) is one of several critically endangered sawfishes worldwide known to use estuaries and rivers during their early life history. In a Florida estuary designated as critical habitat by the USA government, juveniles were monitored to characterise seasonality, recruitment, and habitat use. Stretched total length ranged from 671 to 2172 mm (n = 137, mean = 1248 mm). Sawfish were captured year round. Captures of neonates with embryonic rostral sheaths allowed refinement of the size at birth (671–812 mm) and confirmed a protracted timing of parturition (November–July), which peaked between April and May. Although sampling occurred throughout the estuary, five locations had the greatest catch rates. Most juvenile sawfish had an affinity for water <1 m deep, water >30°C, dissolved oxygen >6 mg L–1, and salinity between 18 and 30. Greater catch rates for sawfish >1 year old were associated with shoreline habitats with overhanging vegetation such as mangroves. These results detail habitat use within a recognised nursery that can be used for conservation of the first endangered marine fish species in the USA.

Additional keywords: Caloosahatchee River, Charlotte Harbor, elasmobranch, habitat use, lower lethal temperature, Myakka River, ontogenetic niche shift, Peace River, Pristidae, ray, tag–recapture.


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