Optimal soak times for Baited Remote Underwater Video Station surveys of reef-associated elasmobranchs
Effective sampling of marine communities is essential to provide robust estimates of species richness and abundance. Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (BRUVS) are a useful tool in assessment of fish assemblages, but research on the optimal sampling period required to record common and rare elasmobranch species is limited. An appropriate ‘soak time’ (time elapsed between settlement of the BRUVS on the seabed and when it is hauled off the seabed) requires consideration, since longer soak times may be required to record species rare in occurrence, or sightings in areas of generally low elasmobranch abundance. We analysed 5352 BRUVS deployments with a range of soak times across 21 countries in the Coral Triangle and Pacific Ocean, to determine the optimal soak time required for sampling reef-associated elasmobranchs, considering species rarity, and community abundance at each site. Species were categorised into 4 ‘rarity’ groups (very rare to common), by their relative occurrence in the dataset, defined simply by the proportion of BRUVS on which they occurred. Individual BRUVS were categorised into 3 ‘abundance’ groups (low to high) by overall relative elasmobranch abundance, defined as total number of all elasmobranchs sighted per unit of sampling effort. The effects of BRUVS soak times, and levels of rarity and abundance groupings, on the time to first sighting (TFS) and time to maximum number of elasmobranchs observed (tMaxN) were examined. We found that TFS occurred earlier for species groups with high occurrence, and on BRUVS with high elasmobranch abundance, yet longer soak times were not essential to observe rarer species. Our models indicated an optimum of 95% of both sighting event types (TFS, tMaxN) was recorded within 63–77 minutes, and a soak time of 60 minutes recorded 78–94% of the elasmobranch sighting events recorded (78–94% of TFS events and 82–90% of tMaxN events), when species rarity and abundance on BRUVS was accounted for. Our study shows that deployments of ~ 77 minutes are optimal for recording all species we observed, although 60 minutes soak time effectively samples the majority of elasmobranch species in shallow coral reef habitats using BRUVS.