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A globally threatened shark, Carcharias taurus, shows no population decline in South Africa

Knowledge about the demographic histories of natural populations helps to evaluate their conservation status, and potential impacts of natural and anthropogenic pressures. In particular, estimates of effective population size obtained through molecular data can provide useful information to guide management decisions for vulnerable populations. The spotted ragged-tooth shark Carcharias taurus (also known as the sandtiger or grey nurse shark) is widely distributed in warm-temperate and subtropical waters, but has suffered severe population declines across much of its range as a result of overexploitation.


Here, we used multilocus genotype data to investigate the demographic history of the South African C. taurus population. Using approximate Bayesian computation and likelihood-based importance sampling, it was found that the population underwent a historical range expansion that may have been linked to climatic changes during the late Pleistocene. There was no evidence for a recent anthropogenic decline.


Together with census data suggesting a stable population, these results support the idea that fishing pressure and other threats have so far not been detrimental to the local C. Taurus population. The results reported here indicate that South Africa could possibly harbour the last remaining, relatively pristine population of this widespread but vulnerable top predator.

Authors: Juliana D. Klein, Aletta E. Bester-van der Merwe, Matthew L. Dicken, Arsalan Emami-Khoyi, Kolobe L. Mmonwa, Peter R. Teske

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