Risk & Resource

drivers of spatiotemporal behaviour in a juvenile marine predator

Project Overview

The foundation of this researc is a novel framework and workflow for marine ecology called the Seascapes of Ecological Energy (SEE-scapes). SEE-scapes is developed as a tool for researchers interested in studying marine vertebrate behaviour in the contemporary marine environment, taking a holistic and hierarchical perspective on the possible drivers of behaviour. 

Adopting a first principles approach, where the potential influence of all ecological concerns start as equally likely, the framework outlines how to successively study proposed drivers of behaviour, comparing the direction and magnitude of the impact of a driver on resultant behaviour. It is our aim that this framework will enable marine ecologists to work towards more realistic predictions of marine vertebrates behaviour in an ever-evolving contemporary seascape. 

In my work, I use the framework to study the behaviour of juvenile lemon sharks, in a mangrove nursery, in Bimini, Bahamas. In some cases I utilise Bayesian statistics and employ habitat and resource selection functions to help tease apart the drivers of spatial behaviour in an early-life stage of this IUCN listed Vulnerable species. 

Study System & Species

Negaprion brevirostris

I work with juvenile lemon sharks, on the remote island of Bimini, in The Bahamas. This subpopulation of sharks is natally philopatric, meaning the females give birth in the mangroves where they themselves were born. The juveniles then stay around in the nursery lagoon habitat for five years. This study system offers the opportunity for replicate sampling of the same individuals - a rare thing in a wild marine environment.

My data comes from multiple collaborators to whom I am very grateful. 

Bimini, The Bahamas

Bimini is a mangrove fringed island on the Great Bahamian Bank. It's northern lagoon and southern coast are critical nursery grounds for the North Atlantic population of juvenile lemon sharks. 

Bimini is comprised of two islands, a north and south island, connected by a narrow channel to the southwest. My study sites span a portion of the southern coast of South Bimini; and large areas of the northern lagoon of North Bimini, including areas known as Bonefish Hole, North Sound, and Shark Land. The habitats are defined by a mangrove fringed coast, shallow seagrass beds, sand flats, and dramatic daily tides. 

Research Questions

Research Outputs 

A framework for studying ecological energy in the contemporary marine environment. 

You can find the Open Access paper here: tinyurl.com/SEEscapes2023

The Seascape of Ecological Energy, or SEE-scapes, contextualizes the accumulated knowledge from marine biology and behavioural ecology research and provides a guide for marine scientists interested in grounding their research in behavioural ecology’s first principles.

Habitat selection and spatial behaviour of vulnerable juvenile lemon sharks: Implications for conservation. 

You can find the Open Access paper here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2024.112239 

We found that juvenile sharks space use is driven by preference for coastline firnging vegetation like mangroves and avoidance of once-pristine areas now the sites of human coastal development

Our findings have regional and global implications for management of coastlines for sharks. And we introduce a habitat selection framework for integrating shark behaviour, or any marine vertebrate movement data, into marine conservation as an indicator of habitat value or quality and areas for protection.