Maternal investment and size-specific reproductive output in carcharhinid sharks

Authors

  • Nigel E. Hussey,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Ocean Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, Menai Bridge, Anglesey LL59 5AB, UK
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  • Sabine P. Wintner,

    1. KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, Private Bag 2, Umhlanga Rocks 4320, South Africa
    2. Biomedical Resource Unit, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4056, South Africa
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  • Sheldon F. J. Dudley,

    1. KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, Private Bag 2, Umhlanga Rocks 4320, South Africa
    2. Biomedical Resource Unit, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4056, South Africa
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  • Geremy Cliff,

    1. KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, Private Bag 2, Umhlanga Rocks 4320, South Africa
    2. Biomedical Resource Unit, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4056, South Africa
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  • David T. Cocks,

    1. School of Ocean Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, Menai Bridge, Anglesey LL59 5AB, UK
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  • M. Aaron MacNeil

    1. Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3 Townsville MC, Townsville, Qld 4810, Australia
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Correspondence author. E-mail: nigel.hussey@bangor.ac.uk

Summary

1. Life-history theory predicts that organisms will provide an optimal level of parental investment for offspring survival balanced against the effects on their own survival and future reproductive potential.

2. Optimal resource allocation models also predict an increase in reproductive output with age as expected future reproductive effort decreases. To date, maternal investment in sharks has received limited attention.

3. We found that neonatal dusky sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus) are not independent from maternal resource allocation at the point of parturition but instead are provisioned with energy reserves in the form of an enlarged liver that constitutes approximately 20% of total body mass.

4. Analysis of long-term archived data sets showed that a large proportion of this enlarged liver is utilized during the first weeks or months of life suggesting that the reported weight loss of newborn sharks signifies a natural orientation process and is not necessarily related to prey abundance and/or indicative of high mortality rates.

5. Interrogation of near-term pup mass in two carcharhinids, the dusky and spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna), further revealed an increase in reproductive output with maternal size, with evidence for a moderate decline in the largest mothers.

6. For the dusky shark, there was a trade-off between increasing litter size and near-term pup mass in support of optimal offspring size theory.

7. For both the dusky and spinner shark, there was a linear increase in near-term pup mass with month, which may indicate variable parturition strategies and/or that carcharhinids are able to adjust the length of the gestation period.

8. The identification of optimal size-specific reproductive output has direct implications for improving the reproductive potential of exploited shark populations and for structuring future management strategies.

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