Sex-based differences in movement and space use of the blacktip reef shark, Carcharhinus melanopterus
Information on the spatial ecology of reef sharks is critical to understanding life-history patterns, yet gaps remain in our knowledge of how these species move and occupy space. Previous studies have focused on offshore reefs and atolls with little information available on the movement and space use of sharks utilising reef habitats closer to shore. Cross-shelf differences in physical and biological properties of reefs can alter regional ecosystem processes resulting in different movement patterns for resident sharks. Passive acoustic telemetry was used to examine residency, space use and depth use of 40 blacktip reef sharks, Carcharhinus melanopterus, on an inshore reef in Queensland, Australia, and assess temporal or biological influences. All sharks showed strong site-attachment to inshore reefs with residency highest among adult females. Sharks exhibited a sex-based, seasonal pattern in space use where males moved more, occupied more space and explored new areas during the reproductive season, while females utilised the same amount of space throughout the year, but shifted the location of the space used. A positive relationship was also observed between space use and size. There was evidence of seasonal site fidelity and long-distance movement with the coordinated, annual migration of two adult males to the study site during the mating season. Depth use was segregated with some small sharks occupying shallower depths than adults throughout the day and year, most likely as refuge from predation. Results highlight the importance of inshore reef habitats to blacktip reef sharks and provide evidence of connectivity with offshore reefs, at least for adult males.