Characterization of Shark Movements on a Mesophotic Caribbean Coral Reef and Temporal Association with Fish Spawning Aggregations
Habitat use of mesophotic coral reefs by sharks is largely unknown. However, it is well established that mesophotic reefs are the site of spawning aggregations for many species of teleost fish. These aggregations represent seasonal concentrations of potential prey biomass that may influence the habitat use of predatory species such as large sharks. I employed acoustic monitoring to examine the movements of three shark species lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), and Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi)] to determine 1) the comparative spatiotemporal patterns of mesophotic reef habitat use by the three shark species and 2) the spatiotemporal relationship between these sharks and grouper spawning aggregations at a fish spawning aggregation (FSA) site (Hind Bank and Grammanik Bank) along the southern reef shelf edge off St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands (USVI). Tiger and lemon sharks were detected across nearly the entire acoustic array, which spanned ~ 1060 km2. When present, Caribbean reef sharks used a much smaller activity space, composed exclusively of mesophotic reef habitat located within FSA sites. Individuals from all three species were typically detected for stretches of several consecutive days, while periods without detections usually lasted less than one week. Lemon sharks were present at the FSA site more often during the grouper spawning season (Dec-May) than the non-spawning season (Jun-Nov), but showed no preference toward specific areas within the FSA site, which varied by location and grouper species composition. In contrast, there was no relationship between the presence of tiger and Caribbean reef sharks at the FSA site and the grouper spawning season. My results suggest that despite different habitat use patterns and varying degrees of fidelity, this mesophotic reef serves as an important habitat to all three shark species.