Density, habitat use and behaviour of the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Teleostei: Syngnathidae) around Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Journal Article
Marine and Freshwater Research, 2006, 57 (7), pp. 737 - 745
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The vulnerability of marine fish species, particularly those inhabiting coastal waters, is an increasingly important issue in marine conservation. Although the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Lacepede, 1804), a syngnathid fish endemic to southern Australia, is legally protected in New South Wales, there are no studies on population density, habitat use and behaviour to support this protection. We investigated the abundance, sex ratios and distribution of the weedy seadragon at three sites near Sydney, Australia. The distribution, density and sex ratios of seadragons were temporally stable, suggesting no large-scale seasonal migrations. Estimated population densities varied among sites from 10 individuals per ha to 65 individuals per ha, with sex ratios close to 1:1. Survival rates from one encounter to the next (approximately weekly) were high, being slightly lower for males (0.985 ± 0.006, mean ± se) and females (0.987 ± 0.005) compared with juveniles (1.000 ± 0.000). All size classes and both sexes were most common near the border of kelp and sand except when exhibiting hiding behaviour, when they were more often found in kelp beds. Kelp beds were the least-used habitat when feeding. Pregnant males tended to hide more often than other groups and therefore were more frequently found in kelp and kelp patches. Seadragons tended to be solitary, although pairing and grouping behaviour was also observed. Results of the present study show that weedy seadragons are resident in the same area throughout the year and have a strong affinity with heavily weeded rock and/or sand habitat. It is therefore recommended that the current species-based protection laws be used in concert with habitat-protection zones as a necessary measure to ensure the conservation of weedy seadragon populations. © CSIRO 2006.
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