River Dolphins Can Act as Population Trend Indicators in Degraded Freshwater Systems

Samuel T. Turvey*, Claire L. Risley, Leigh A. Barrett, Hao Yujiang, Wang Ding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (SciVal)
147 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Conservation attention on charismatic large vertebrates such as dolphins is often supported by the suggestion that these species represent surrogates for wider biodiversity, or act as indicators of ecosystem health. However, their capacity to act as indicators of patterns or trends in regional biodiversity has rarely been tested. An extensive new dataset of >300 last-sighting records for the Yangtze River dolphin or baiji and two formerly economically important fishes, the Yangtze paddlefish and Reeves' shad, all of which are probably now extinct in the Yangtze, was collected during an interview survey of fishing communities across the middle-lower Yangtze drainage. Untransformed last-sighting date frequency distributions for these species show similar decline curves over time, and the linear gradients of transformed last-sighting date series are not significantly different from each other, demonstrating that these species experienced correlated population declines in both timing and rate of decline. Whereas species may be expected to respond differently at the population level even in highly degraded ecosystems, highly vulnerable (e.g. migratory) species can therefore display very similar responses to extrinsic threats, even if they represent otherwise very different taxonomic, biological and ecological groupings. Monitoring the status of river dolphins or other megafauna therefore has the potential to provide wider information on the status of other threatened components of sympatric freshwater biotas, and so represents a potentially important monitoring tool for conservation management. We also show that interview surveys can provide robust quantitative data on relative population dynamics of different species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere37902
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS One
Volume7
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2012

Keywords

  • YANGTZE FINLESS PORPOISE
  • TOP PREDATORS
  • EXTINCTION RISK
  • LIFE-HISTORY
  • SPECIES RICHNESS
  • CLIMATE-CHANGE
  • CONSERVATION
  • BIODIVERSITY
  • CHINA
  • FISHERIES

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