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Assessment of conservations actions for the critically endangered spotted handfish (Brachionichthyidae), following curation of data collected by multiple investigators into a long-term time-series
Multi-decadal datasets for endangered species that track both populations and performance of management interventions are rare. One such dataset is for the critically endangered Spotted handfish, a species which has been used as a conservation model for the most endangered of the marine bony fish families the Brachionichthyidae. We assessed a 23-year, multi-site, time-series of population density surveys for the spotted handfish as well as a conservation intervention, the planting of ∼ 14,000 artificial spawning habitats (ASH). Data ownership spanned multiple Principal Investigators (PIs) and key data and covariates, such as monitoring and interventions, were often documented within personal files and difficult to access grey literature. We consolidated and curated these data, identifying gaps in the time-series and their causes and isolating confounding factors before we assessed population trends and the effectiveness of ASH planting. Both funding gaps and the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown produced breaks in the time-series. Breeding season observations mostly occurred in the early part of the dataset and there was also a change in method that needed to be considered when interpretating the time-series. There was an overall decline in fish observed between 1997 and 2019 but, at least since 2014, there has been stabilisation of the population. Local populations of spotted handfish can either be highly dynamic or relatively stable but population increases were linked to the long-running, conservation intervention of planting ASH. As local populations can be dynamic, the functional life span of the ASH is limited and threats to the species - chronic, stochastic and climate - are ongoing, spotted handfish may be a ‘conservation reliant’ species that require annual site-specific monitoring, insitu interventions and existu captive husbandry.
Department of Environment and Energy (Cwth)
Publication titleJournal for Nature Conservation
Department/SchoolInstitute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
Place of publicationGermany
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