Predators can impact ecosystems through trophic cascades such that differential patterns in habitat use can lead to spatiotemporal variation in top down forcing on community dynamics. Thus, improved understanding of predator movements is important for evaluating the potential ecosystem effects of their declines.
We satellite-tagged an apex predator (bull sharks, Carcharhinus leucas) and a sympatric mesopredator (Atlantic tarpon, Megalops atlanticus) in southern Florida waters to describe their habitat use, abundance and movement patterns. We asked four questions: (1) How do the seasonal abundance patterns of bull sharks and tarpon compare? (2) How do the movement patterns of bull sharks and tarpon compare, and what proportion of time do their respective primary ranges overlap? (3) Do tarpon movement patterns (e.g., straight versus convoluted paths) and/or their rates of movement (ROM) differ in areas of low versus high bull shark abundance? and (4) Can any general conclusions be reached concerning whether tarpon may mitigate risk of predation by sharks when they are in areas of high bull shark abundance?
Despite similarities in diet, bull sharks and tarpon showed little overlap in habitat use. Bull shark abundance was high year-round, but peaked in winter; while tarpon abundance and fishery catches were highest in late spring. However, presence of the largest sharks (>230 cm) coincided with peak tarpon abundance. When moving over deep open waters (areas of high shark abundance and high food availability) tarpon maintained relatively high ROM in directed lines until reaching shallow structurally-complex areas. At such locations, tarpon exhibited slow tortuous movements over relatively long time periods indicative of foraging. Tarpon periodically concentrated up rivers, where tracked bull sharks were absent. We propose that tarpon trade-off energetic costs of both food assimilation and osmoregulation to reduce predation risk by bull sharks.