Temporal variability in the life history and reproductive biology of female dugongs in Torres Strait: the likely role of sea grass dieback

Marsh, Helene, and Kwan, Donna (2008) Temporal variability in the life history and reproductive biology of female dugongs in Torres Strait: the likely role of sea grass dieback. Continental Shelf Research, 28 (16). pp. 2152-2159.

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Abstract

The extensive sea grass meadows in Torres Strait enable it to be a globally important habitat for the dugong, Dugong dugon, a marine mammal of cultural and dietary significance to Torres Strait Islanders and the basis for the substantial island-based fishery in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. Torres Strait sea grass communities are subjected to episodic diebacks which are now believed to be largely natural events. Information on dugong life history was obtained from specimens obtained from female dugongs as they were butchered for food by Indigenous hunters at two major dugong hunting communities in Torres Strait: Daru (9.04°S, 143.21°E) in 1978–1982 (a time of sea grass dieback and recovery) and Mabuiag Island (9.95°S, 142.15°E) in 1997–1999 (when sea grasses were abundant). Dugongs sampled in 1997–1999 had their first calf at younger ages (minimum of 6 cf. 10 years), and more frequently (interbirth interval based on all possible pregnancies 2.6±0.4 (S.E.) yr cf. 5.8±1.0 yr) than the dugongs sampled in 1978–1982. Pregnancy rates increased monotonically during 1978–1982, coincident with sea grass recovery. The age distribution of the female dugongs collected in 1997–1999 also suggested a low birth rate between 1973 and 1983 and/or or a high level of mortality for animals born during this period. These results add to the evidence from other regions that the life history and reproductive rate of female dugongs are adversely affected by sea grass loss, the effect of which cannot be separated from a possible density-dependent response to changes in dugong population size. Many green turtles in Torres Strait were also in poor body condition coincident with the 1970s sea grass dieback. The impacts of future sea grass diebacks need to be anticipated when management options for the traditional Torres Strait fisheries for dugongs and green turtles are evaluated.

Item ID: 6142
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: sea grass; life history; reproduction; dugong and turtle fisheries; Torres Strait
ISSN: 1873-6955
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2010 05:49
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9699 Other Environment > 969999 Environment not elsewhere classified @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 50%
Citation Count from Web of Science Web of Science 10
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