Two species of smooth-hound sharks – common and white-spotted – are targeted by fishermen along South Africa’s coast. Simo is examining their physical and genetic differences to help us understand the relationship between these species.
This project’s key objective is to investigate the evolutionary origin of the genus Mustelus in southern Africa, and the influence of selective and demographic factors on intra- and inter-population genomic and phenotypic variation in two commercially important, sympatric Mustelus species, M. Mustelus and M. palumbes.
Misidentification of sharks is a prominent issue in fishing operations, particularly in long-line and trawl fisheries, where there is a high rate of incidental capture of non-target shark species. This hinders the collection of reliable, species-specific data for shark catches and trade making robust stock assessments and identification of overfished and potentially threatened species nearly impossible in most situations. Understanding species boundaries and evolutionary history will thus be useful for the conservation management of various shark species.
Mustelus is a species-rich and commercially important genus of circumglobally distributed small- to medium-sized demersal sharks found in temperate and tropical waters. Mustelus species are collectively termed smoothhounds, houndsharks, gummy sharks or palombos, and some share a high degree of external morphology, which leads to confusion in distinguishing between species. Consequently the genus has historically been deemed taxonomically and systematically challenging. The scarcity of informative morphological variation and limited genetic knowledge have hindered the delineation of species boundaries and the understanding of their evolutionary origin, which has important implications for conservation management.
In southern Africa there are two socio-economically important, sympatric Mustelus species: the common smoothhound shark M. mustelus and whitespotted smoothhound shark M. palumbes. Currently M. mustelus is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List; M. palumbes is listed as Data Deficient. M. mustelus is a cosmopolitan species with widespread distribution from the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean to the South-West Indian Ocean. M. palumbes is endemic to southern Africa and the species’ range overlaps with that of M. mustelus from Namibia to northern KwaZulu-Natal. In KwaZulu-Natal these species co-occur with an isolated population of the north-west Indian Ocean Mustelus species, the hardnose smoothhound shark M. mosis.
It is suggested that the observed peculiar distribution of Mustelus species is due to the interaction of different oceanographic phenomena and the limited migratory ability of these animals, thus they are restricted to isolated geographic ranges. It is imperative that future population genomics and phylogenetic studies clearly explain the distribution patterns and speciation exhibited by these species.
The aims and objectives of this project are to:
To really understand how vulnerable sharks are to fishing in localised areas, we need to know the genetic variation across large areas. Dominic is investigating this in blacktip sharks, one of the dominant shark species caught in US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fisheries, to understand population connectivity across the Caribbean Sea and between these regions.
Silky sharks are second most harvested shark species on the planet and one of the most abundant in the shark finning industry. Their numbers have plummeted in the past 20 years. Derek is using an atlas of genomic diversity to work out which areas of the ocean are fished and to understand the origins of silky shark fins in the Hong Kong market, the centre of the shark-finning industry.
Sawsharks are some of the most threatened species in our seas; protecting them requires good information on where they move and what their populations look like. Jane and Paddy are using a variety of methods to improve our understanding of the conservation status and management of sawsharks threatened by fishing in south-eastern Australia.