Research / Sharks & Rays
Sharks & Rays
The study of sharks and rays has been a central focus of our research collaborators for over two decades. Over this period, they have studied an array of species to investigate a range of questions. Fundamentally, our research is centred on ecology, but some studies have links to conservation biology, evolution, population dynamics, biogeography and fisheries science. Others intersect ecology and physiology, contributing to the field of research known as ecophysiology.
BOF is proud to showcase the work of its research collaborators. Current projects and publications of our research collaborators include the works featured on this page.
Leopard shark ecology, informing re-stocking program in Indonesia
Context-dependent movement behaviour in marine predators: Causes and consequences of behavioural variability
The global ecology of the broadnose sevengill shark: A key apex predator in temperate coastal systems
Porbeagle shark movement ecology, habitat use and conservation in Ireland
Grey nurse conservation on the east coast of Australia
Lifeboat species: Population dynamics and ecology of wedgefish and shovelnose rays in Australia
The role of rays in sandflat habitats
Unravelling the mysteries of Norfolk Island’s tiger sharks (a multi-institutional collaboration led by Flinders University)
Coral Sea connections: Stepping stones or barriers to reef and island connectivity?
Drivers of Migrations & Habitat Use
The last 30 years has seen considerable research investigating when and where marine animals move. In more recent times, scientists have become more interested in why species move, leading them to investigate movements in relation to anthropogenic factors. This includes past to present environmental changes, and also forecasting climate-driven changes in their near and distant future.
Predator-Prey & Trophic Ecology
Food web ecology (ie. who eats who) is fundamental to understanding ecosystem dynamics. Part of BOF’s research focuses on studies of predator-prey interactions and the roles of predators in structuring and maintaining balanced ecosystems.
Distributions, Connectivity & Population Dynamics
Understanding animal distribution patterns in time and space (including identifying differences in occurrence between sexes and life stages) and connectivity across a species’ distribution is critical for appropriate population management and conservation efforts. For instance, it is important to determine if a species should be managed as one population (stock) or as several populations within its distribution.
In ecophysiology, BOF primarily works with The Payne Lab to study topics such as thermal tolerance and energetics. We use physiological information to address broader topics, such as predator-prey interactions (predation rates and mortality), the impacts of climate change, and the trade-offs of energy expenditure and energetic gain (food reward) from shark provisioning at tourism sites (see our research page on Predator-Human Interactions).
BOF researchers have been working on tiger sharks since 2002, when we satellite tagged our first ever shark. It was a tiger shark (tagged at Raine Island), which was also the first ever tiger shark tagged on the east coast of Australia. Over the last 20 years, tiger sharks have been a component of many of our projects and collaborations. Our research included, for example, studying movement patterns of tiger sharks and their prey (green turtles) in relation to feeding opportunities at Raine Island (the largest green turtle nesting site in the world); tiger shark occurrence at a shark tourism site in Fiji; and habitat use patterns in relation to marine protected areas in Southern Africa. In more recent studies, we found that tiger sharks’ trophic role is both context- and habitat-dependent, identified the optimal temperatures for increased tiger abundance and activity, and forecasted a range extensions for the east coast of Australia to Tasmania due to climate change. We also identified tiger sharks as one of the most prevalent species in the Whitsundays, in research responding to shark bites in that region. BOF has also contributed to larger national and global papers that included tiger sharks.
Currently, our tiger shark research focuses mostly on understanding the drivers of their migrations and movement patterns, and identifying essential habitats (e.g. foraging grounds, mating, pupping and nursery areas) on the east coast of Australia. Tiger shark movements can show a lot of individual variability, suggesting a nomadic type of migration strategy (nomads do not follow regular patterns or routes). However, research on tiger shark movements has only scratched the surface, and we are digging deeper to assess if there are underlying drivers of their movements. A better understanding of movements will inform the overarching aim to determine tiger shark population dynamics in the Coral Sea region of the Western Pacific. BOF is presently leading a multi-institution collaboration investigating connectivity and stock structure of tiger sharks between Queensland, New South Wales, Norfolk Island and New Caledonia.