Coastal breeding aggregations of threatened stingrays and guitarfish in the Levant

Shahar Chaikin*, Jonathan Belmaker, Adi Barash

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Stingrays and guitarfish are globally threatened by overexploitation, particularly so in the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, very little information is known about their ecology, behaviour, and taxonomy in the Mediterranean, and especially in the Levant, where water temperature, salinity, and the impact of invasive species are relatively high. Although it has been suggested that some species may aggregate in the Levant, this has not been formally documented and the scale of this phenomenon, the taxonomic composition, and the temporal dynamics are unknown. Visual surveys were conducted, which allowed the documentation of stingrays and guitarfish behaviour, and which was not available from data based on fishery catches. The census took place within a marine protected area over a period of 3 years. Altogether, we documented 675 batoid observations. One of the observed species is Endangered (Glaucostegus cemiculus) and one is Vulnerable (Dasyatis pastinaca), whereas the others are classed as Least Concern (Torpedo torpedo and Torpedo marmorata), Data Deficient (Taeniurops grabatus), non-assessed within the Mediterranean (Dasyatis chrysonota), and Not Evaluated (Himantura uarnak). Results show clear seasonal patterns, with dense aggregations recorded during spring and early summer, when densities reached 85 observations per kilometre. In addition, there were clear indications of breeding behaviour in D. pastinaca and D. chrysonota, including the first recorded documentation of D. pastinaca courtship in the Mediterranean. Large seasonal stingrays and guitarfish aggregations in shallow waters have not, to our knowledge, been documented in the Mediterranean Sea previously. This highlights the importance of conserving shallow habitats as potential breeding grounds. As these sites are easily reached while both snorkelling and diving, the aggregation of these charismatic species can serve as potential ecotourism sites. Finally, this study shows the benefits of using simple visual census, as opposed to catch-based methods, to record both the diversity and the behaviour of batoids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1160-1171
Number of pages12
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Volume30
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • Dasyatidae
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • breeding aggregations
  • marine conservation
  • marine protected area
  • threatened species
  • underwater visual census

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