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

A multi-faceted approach for quantifying the estuarine–nearshore transition in the life cycle of the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas

J. M. Werry A B F , S. Y. Lee A , N. M. Otway C , Y. Hu D and W. Sumpton E

A Australian Rivers Institute and School of Environment, Griffith University Gold Coast campus, Qld 4222, Australia.

B Ocean and Coast Research, PO Box 299, Main Beach, Qld 4217, Australia.

C Department of Primary Industries, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, Taylors Beach, NSW 2316, Australia.

D Advanced Analytical Centre, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4810, Australia.

E Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Southern Fisheries Centre, PO Box 76, Deception Bay Queensland, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email: jwerry@oc-research.com

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(12) 1421-1431 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF11136
Submitted: 15 June 2011  Accepted: 3 September 2011   Published: 2 November 2011

Abstract

Understanding the ontogenetic habitat linkages of sharks is important for conservation and managing human interactions. We used acoustic telemetry, catch data, elemental and stable isotope signatures and dietary analyses to investigate ontogenetic habitat use in south-east Queensland, Australia, by the bull shark Carcharhinus leucas, a IUCN ‘near-threatened’ species that is implicated in many shark attacks on humans in urban estuaries. Sequential analyses for δ15N and δ13C of vertebrae from five adult C. leucas and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS) for elemental composition from 23 C. leucas, including a pregnant female, were also used to trace ontogenetic habitat dependence. Acoustic telemetry indicated large juvenile and subadult C. leucas remained in estuarine habitats. δ15N values across shark vertebrae showed an ontogenetic shift in diet with total length (TL), confirmed by stomach contents. LA-ICPMS data reflected the ontogenetic movements of C. leucas from natal habitats. Differences among adults were gender related. Shifts in habitat use by subadults were correlated with a sigmoidal δ13C relationship with TL. C. leucas have a multipartite, stage-specific dependency in their transition between habitats along the freshwater–estuarine–marine continuum, making them particularly susceptible to the habitat alteration that is occurring globally.

Additional keywords: acoustic telemetry, LA-ICPMS elemental analysis, ontogenetic habitat shift, stable isotope analysis.


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