Habitat selection of freshwater-dependent cetaceans and the potential effects of declining freshwater flows and sea-level rise in waterways of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, Bangladesh

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Abstract

  • 1.Generalized additive models of sighting data for cetaceans collected during two surveys of waterways in the Sundarbans mangrove forest of Bangladesh indicated that Ganges River dolphin Platanista gangetica gangetica distribution was conditionally dependent (P<0.05) on low salinity, high turbidity, and moderate depth during both low and high freshwater flow; and Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris distribution was conditionally dependent (P<0.05) on low salinity during high freshwater flow, high and moderate depths during low and high freshwater flow, respectively; low and high-low extremes of turbidity during low and high freshwater flow, respectively; and high temperature and increasing numbers of large–small channel confluences during low freshwater flow.
  • 2.According to sighting data collected over a 3-year period by the captains of three nature tourism vessels, there were significant differences between the actual and expected frequencies of Ganges River dolphin sightings and individuals according to various channel types (chi-square=64.22, P<0.0001 and chi-square=134.14, P<0.0001, respectively, df=6) and of Irrawaddy dolphin sightings and individuals (chi-square=15.28, P=0.0182, and chi-square=29.42, P<0.0001, respectively, df=6), with shared preferences for wide sinuous channels with at least two small confluences or one large confluence.
  • 3.The dependency exhibited by both species for environmental characteristics associated with abundant freshwater flow, including low salinity and the availability of confluences, make them particularly vulnerable to habitat loss due to upstream water abstraction and sea-level rise.
  • 4.Although the results of this study may not affect plans for construction in India of large-scale, inter-basin water transfer projects that will result in further declines in freshwater flows, or decisions within the international community about CO2 emissions affecting global sea levels, they can be used to prioritize locations where protective measures could be employed to benefit the long-term conservation of both species.

Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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