Chondrichthyans as an umbrella species-complex for conserving South African biodiversity
Conservation surrogates, such as umbrella and flagship species, could help focus South Africa’s limited resources for research and management and enhance the conservation gains from marine protected areas (MPAs). Sharks, rays and chimaeras (Chondrichthyes), which are charismatic and ecologically diverse, are potential umbrella candidates, but tests of the ecological suitability of putative marine umbrella species are lacking. Using baited remote underwater video in and around two MPAs in the Western Cape Province, we assessed the potential of chondrichthyans as an umbrella species-complex by quantifying the relationships and co-occurrence patterns between chondrichthyan abundance and diversity and those of other taxa (primarily teleosts and crustaceans). Sites with abundant chondrichthyans, with catsharks or large sharks (>1 m total length), all had significantly greater abundance and diversity of these other taxa, and associations with species of commercial and conservation interest (e.g. roman Chrysoblephus laticeps). Endemic scyliorhinids (notably dark catshark Haploblepharus pictus) and the broadnose sevengill shark Notorynchus cepedianus also had many strong positive co-occurrences (28% and 21% of interactions, respectively). The puffadder catshark H. edwardsii had the highest centrality of any species, denoting its high connectedness to other taxa. Overall, chondrichthyans, especially the dark and puffadder catsharks and the broadnose sevengill shark, show strong potential as an umbrella species-complex in South Africa.
Keywords: baited remote underwater video, Chrysoblephus laticeps, co-occurrence, Jasus lalandii, marine protected areas, Notorynchus cepedianus, Scyliorhinidae, Western Cape