May 27, 2024

Local Variation in Feeding Ground Utilization of Dugongs (Dugong dugon) Across Two Intertidal Seagrass Beds in Talibong Island, Thailand


Chiaki Yamato, Kotaro Ichikawa, Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, and Nobuaki Arai


Document: Article

Abstract: In this study, we describe the population characteristics and residency patterns of dugongs (Dugong dugon) across two intertidal seagrass beds in Talibong Island, Thailand: Site A, covering an area of 2.0 × 105 m2, and Site B, covering an area of 2.8 × 105 m2. Transect and individual identification surveys were conducted under clear water conditions using drones: 16 separate days over 11 months at Site A and 10 separate days over 3 months at Site B. Sixty-four individuals were identified from 180 videography sessions. The results confirmed at least two distinct patterns of seagrass habitat utilization among sites located approximately 5 km apart. Site A was characterized by a lower population density, higher year-round site fidelity, occupancy by relatively large individuals, and an absence of feeding aggregations. In contrast, Site B was characterized by a higher population density, lower site fidelity, occupancy by individuals with a wider range of body lengths, and the presence of feeding aggregations. The average population density at Site B was three to five times higher than that at Site A. Site A had a median nearest neighbor distance of 320 m with no significant bias in its distribution, whereas Site B had a median of 20 m with a significant bias. The mean site fidelity index for Site A (0.62 ± 0.08; n = 16) was significantly higher than that for Site B (0.39 ± 0.14; n = 10). Dugongs at Site A might have monopolized this site to some extent, while those at Site B might have benefited from increased opportunities for social interaction provided by aggregations. These findings highlight the importance of fine-scale monitoring of feeding ground utilization by dugongs, taking into consideration individual-specific details such as body lengths and resighting rates for a better understanding of their spatial distribution.

Key Words: habitat use, feeding, drone, dugong, Dugong dugon, population characteristics, photo identification

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1578/AM.50.3.2024.237

Page Numbers: 237-251

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