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Kashiwagi T.,University of Queensland | Kashiwagi T.,Queensland Government | Marshall A.D.,Manta Ray and Whale Shark Research Center | Bennett M.B.,University of Queensland | Ovenden J.R.,Queensland Government
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution | Year: 2012

Manta rays have been taxonomically revised as two species, Manta alfredi and M. birostris, on the basis of morphological and meristic data, yet the two species occur in extensive mosaic sympatry. We analysed the genetic signatures of the species boundary using a portion of the nuclear RAG1 (681 base pairs), mitochondrial CO1 (574. bp) and ND5 genes (1188. bp). The assay with CO1 sequences, widely used in DNA barcoding, failed to distinguish the two species. The two species were clearly distinguishable, however, with no shared RAG1 or ND5 haplotypes. The species were reciprocally monophyletic for RAG1, but paraphyletic for ND5 sequences. Qualitative evidence and statistical inferences using the 'Isolation-with-Migration models' indicated that these results were better explained with post-divergence gene flow in the recent past rather than incomplete lineage sorting with zero gene flow since speciation. An estimate of divergence time was less than 0.5. Ma with an upper confidence limit of within 1. Ma. Recent speciation of highly mobile species in the marine environment is of great interest, as it suggests that speciation may have occurred in the absence of long-term physical barriers to gene flow. We propose that the ecologically driven forces such as habitat choice played a significant role in speciation in manta rays. © 2012 Elsevier Inc. Source

Town C.,University of Cambridge | Marshall A.,Manta Ray and Whale Shark Research Center | Sethasathien N.,University of Edinburgh
Ecology and Evolution | Year: 2013

For species which bear unique markings, such as natural spot patterning, field work has become increasingly more reliant on visual identification to recognize and catalog particular specimens or to monitor individuals within populations. While many species of interest exhibit characteristic markings that in principle allow individuals to be identified from photographs, scientists are often faced with the task of matching observations against databases of hundreds or thousands of images. We present a novel technique for automated identification of manta rays (Manta alfredi and Manta birostris) by means of a pattern-matching algorithm applied to images of their ventral surface area. Automated visual identification has recently been developed for several species. However, such methods are typically limited to animals that can be photographed above water, or whose markings exhibit high contrast and appear in regular constellations. While manta rays bear natural patterning across their ventral surface, these patterns vary greatly in their size, shape, contrast, and spatial distribution. Our method is the first to have proven successful at achieving high matching accuracies on a large corpus of manta ray images taken under challenging underwater conditions. Our method is based on automated extraction and matching of keypoint features using the Scale-Invariant Feature Transform (SIFT) algorithm. In order to cope with the considerable variation in quality of underwater photographs, we also incorporate preprocessing and image enhancement steps. Furthermore, we use a novel pattern-matching approach that results in better accuracy than the standard SIFT approach and other alternative methods. We present quantitative evaluation results on a data set of 720 images of manta rays taken under widely different conditions. We describe a novel automated pattern representation and matching method that can be used to identify individual manta rays from photographs. The method has been incorporated into a website (mantamatcher.org) which will serve as a global resource for ecological and conservation research. It will allow researchers to manage and track sightings data to establish important life-history parameters as well as determine other ecological data such as abundance, range, movement patterns, and structure of manta ray populations across the world. © 2013 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution. Source

Pierce S.J.,Manta Ray and Whale Shark Research Center | Pierce S.J.,All Out Africa Research Unit | Mendez-Jimenez A.,All Out Africa Research Unit | Collins K.,All Out Africa Research Unit | And 2 more authors.
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems | Year: 2010

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a popular focal species within the global marine tourism industry. Although this has contributed to increased protection being granted to the species in several countries, tourism itself can be detrimental to the sharks in the absence of appropriate management. Potential impacts can be mitigated, at least in the short term, by adherence to well-designed interaction guidelines. A burgeoning marine tourism industry based on swimming with whale sharks has developed at Tofo Beach in Mozambique. However, no formal management is currently in place at this site. The behaviour of whale sharks during interactions with boats and swimmers were recorded during 137 commercial snorkelling trips run from Tofo Beach over a 20 month period. Whale sharks were encountered on 87% of trips, which operated year-round. Boat proximity and shark size were significant predictors of avoidance behaviour. No avoidance responses were recorded at >20 m boat distance. The mean in-water interaction time between sharks and swimmers was 8 min 48 s overall. There was a significant decrease in interaction times during encounters where sharks expressed avoidance behaviours, and also in cases where sharks had expressed boat avoidance behaviour before swimmers entered the water. It is suggested that mean encounter times can be extended through adherence to a basic Code of Conduct for operators and swimmers that enforces minimum distances between the sharks, boats and swimmers. Using encounter time as a measure of the 'success' of interactions holds promise, as longer encounters appear to be indicative of lower impacts on sharks while also providing higher customer satisfaction for swimmers. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Source

Marshall A.D.,University of Queensland | Marshall A.D.,Manta Ray and Whale Shark Research Center | Dudgeon C.L.,University of Queensland | Bennett M.B.,University of Queensland
Marine Biology | Year: 2011

The size and structure of a photographically identified population of reef manta ray, Manta alfredi, were examined at aggregation sites over a four-year period in southern Mozambique. The use and standardisation of photo-ID techniques was examined as a minimally-intrusive means to study this species. Using these techniques, we report on the size, structure and seasonality of this population of M. alfredi. In total, 449 individuals were identified during this time period, 40.5% of which were re-sighted on at least one occasion. The longest period between re-sighting events was 1,252 days. During the study period, annual population size estimates for M. alfredi ranged from 149 to 454 individuals. The superpopulation size estimate for the entire study period was 802 individuals, the first reported for M. alfredi at a monitored aggregation site. A highly significant sex bias was evident with a female:male ratio of 3.55:1. The majority of rays (89.9% males; 49.7% females) were considered mature, with most individuals between 3.0 and 4.9 m in disc width. Manta alfredi were observed at the study sites in each month of the calendar year. The maximum number of individual rays seen per dive was 30. Large numbers of rays (20 + per dive) were seen in the months of November, December and January, which coincide with the breeding season. Natural markings were unique to individuals and did not change substantially with time, which provided further support for their use in the identification of individual M. alfredi over multiple years. Multiple re-sightings of individual M. alfredi suggest that many individuals in this population exhibit site fidelity to the examined aggregation sites. As target subsistence fishing for M. alfredi exists along the Mozambican coastline, management efforts to monitor and prevent overexploitation at these critical habitats should be a priority. © 2011 Springer-Verlag. Source

Marshall A.D.,University of Queensland | Marshall A.D.,Manta Ray and Whale Shark Research Center | Bennett M.B.,University of Queensland
African Journal of Marine Science | Year: 2010

Shark bite injuries on reef manta rays Manta alfredi off the coast of Inhambane, Mozambique, were examined over a three-year period (2003-2006). The frequency and seasonality of attacks, the rate of wound healing, and the possible identities of attackers were explored. This study presents the firs examination of bite wounds on manta rays in the wild and the role sharks may play in the natural mortality of this species. The reported incidence of shark-inflicted injuries is high with over threequarters of the sampled population affected. In total, 571 bite injuries were observed on 283 identified individuals. The number of bite injuries varied from one to seven, with a mean of 1.54 bite wounds. There was no significant difference in the frequency of bite injuries in male and female rays. The majority (96%) of the observed bite wounds were healed. Fresh wounds occurred throughout the year, with no obvious seasonality. The bull shark Carcharhinus leucas and tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvier are suggested as the primary mediators of attacks, although up to 11 other shark species are listed as potential attackers. The majority of the bite marks (96%) occurred to the most posterior region of the body, specifically the posterior edges of the pectoral and pelvic fins, with many injuries likely having a negative impact on the reproductive abilities and fitness of the rays. © NISC (Pty) Ltd. Source

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