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Gap analysis of acoustic tracking data reveals spatial and temporal segregation of sympatric reef sharks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Michael J. Williamson, Emma Jayne Tebbs, Terence Peter Dawson, David Curnick, Francesco Ferretti, Aaron Carlisle, Taylor Chapple, Robert Schallert, David Tickler, Barbara Block, David Jacoby

Original languageEnglish
JournalMovement Ecology
Publication statusSubmitted - 10 Feb 2020

King's Authors


There are now a wide array of field and laboratory techniques available for gaining insight into the movement and behaviour of sharks. Although acoustic telemetry may lack the fine-scale resolution of some satellite technologies, the low cost and longer battery life make it a powerful tool for investigating elasmobranch behaviour. Here, we develop a novel approach to analysing acoustic telemetry data, using detection gaps to infer movement patterns to and from monitored reef habitats, to investigate spatial and temporal segregation between two sympatric shark species in a large remote MPA.

A total of 102 grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and 76 silvertip sharks (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) were fitted with long-term acoustic transmitters and tracked inside a large acoustic array of reef-based receivers in the British Indian Ocean Territory MPA, between 2014 and 2018. From the resulting dataset (768,081 detections), movements between receivers and recursive loops to the same receiver were identified. Using the durations of inter-receiver movements (i.e. detection gaps), individual behaviours were classified into ‘restricted’ or potential wider ‘out of range’ movements. Drivers of these movements were identified using network analysis, GLMMs and multi-model inference starting from an a priori set of explanatory variables.

In general, silvertip sharks were more likely to undertake ‘out of range’ movements than grey reef sharks. ‘Out of range’ movements were more common at night compared to during the day, and during the wet season compared to the dry season. In addition, the difference in ‘out of range’ movements between the two species increased at night. These results suggest spatial and temporal segregation of movements between the two species.

We present a novel analysis of detection gaps from acoustic telemetry data to infer differential movement patterns and describe how species organise in space and time. Furthermore, this approach shows that acoustic telemetry gap analysis can be used for comparative studies, or combined, with other research techniques to better understand the functional role of sharks in reef ecosystems, moving towards more informed strategies for the conservation and management of the marine environment.

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