FCE LTER Journal Articles


Movements of Juvenile Bull Sharks in Response to a Major Hurricane Within a Tropical Estuarine Nursery Area


Predicting the responses of animals to environmental changes is a fundamental goal of ecology and is necessary for conservation and management of species. While most studies focus on relatively gradual changes, extreme events may have lasting impacts on populations. Animals respond to major disturbances such as hurricanes by seeking shelter, migrating, or they may fail to respond appropriately. We assessed the effects of Hurricane Irma in 2017 on the behavior and survival of juvenile bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) within a nursery of the Florida coastal Everglades using long-term acoustic telemetry monitoring. Most of our tagged sharks (n = 14) attempted to leave the shallow waters of the Shark River Estuary before the hurricane strike, but individuals varied in the timing and success of their movements. Eight bull sharks left within hours or days before the hurricane, but three left more than a week in advance. Nine of 11 bull sharks (~ 82%) eventually returned to the array within weeks or months of the storm. Six of these returning individuals were detected in a different coastal array in nearshore waters ca. 80 km away from the mouth of the estuary during their absence. The remaining three bull sharks moved downstream relatively late (after the hurricane) and may have died. We used binomial generalized linear mixed models to estimate the probability of presence within the array as a function of several environmental variables. Departure from the array was predicted by declining barometric pressure, increasing rate of change in pressure, and potentially fluctuations in river stage. Juvenile bull sharks may weigh multiple environmental cues, perceived predation risk, their own physical size, and shifting prey resources when making decisions during and after hurricanes.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DEB-1832229, #DEB-1237517, #DBI-0620409, and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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