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Falling through the cracks: the fading history of a large iconic predator
Ferretti, F.; Verd, G.M.; Séret, B.; Šprem, J.S.; Micheli, F. (2016). Falling through the cracks: the fading history of a large iconic predator. Fish Fish. 17(3): 875-889. https://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/faf.12108
In: Fish and Fisheries. Blackwell Science: Oxford. ISSN 1467-2960, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keyword
    Marine
Author keywords
    bibliographic analysis;ecological baselines;extinction analyses;historical ecology;museum records;sawfish

Authors  Top 
  • Ferretti, F.
  • Verd, G.M.
  • Séret, B.
  • Šprem, J.S.
  • Micheli, F.

Abstract
    Human impact on the oceans predates scientific observation, which for many animal populations has captured only recent changes. Such a limited knowledge can hamper finding optimal management and conservation strategies including setting appropriate recovery targets. Sawfishes are among the most endangered marine vertebrates in the ocean. Historical human impacts have resulted in sawfish extinction in many coastal areas around the world; however, in the Mediterranean Sea, their past presence and possible extinction have been debated for decades. Recently, it was concluded that the region never hosted resident populations because of unsuitable environmental conditions. Through an extensive bibliographic and archival search and an extinction analysis, we reconstructed the history of sawfishes in the Mediterranean Sea. Between 1576 and 1959, there were 48 independent accounts of the occurrence of two sawfish species (Pristis pristis, Pristidae and Pristis pectinata, Pristidae), including 24 documented catches. Sawfishes were mainly recorded in the western Mediterranean, in areas close to large rivers with light human impact. Most of the documented individuals were juveniles, suggesting local parturition. Extinction analyses yielded variable results and were affected by the sparseness of records but suggested that both species went extinct in the Mediterranean Sea in the 1960s–1970s. Our results challenge current assumptions on sawfish ecology and biogeography, offer new options for sawfish conservation in the Atlantic and highlight the importance of historical analyses for reconstructing ecosystem baselines and setting recovery targets.

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