Tropical rays are intrinsically more sensitive to overfishing than the temperate skates

Barrowclift E, Gravel SM, Pardo SA, et al (2023) Tropical rays are intrinsically more sensitive to overfishing than the temperate skates. Biological Conservation 281:110003.

Overfishing, habitat loss, and climate change are driving population declines in many species. Understanding a species' capacity to recover from these and other threats is necessary for prioritising management. The maximum intrinsic rate of population increase (rmax) can be used to compare which species or groups are particularly sensitive to ongoing threats. To investigate global patterns of intrinsic sensitivity of rays and skates (superorder Batoidea), we calculated rmax of 85 species using a modified Euler-Lotka model that accounts for survival to maturity. We examined how rmax varies with body mass, temperature, and depth using an information-theoretic approach through model selection, accounting for phylogenetic non-independence. Although we observed an overall positive relationship between rmax and temperature, we found that warm, shallow-water rays were more intrinsically sensitive to exploitation (lower rmax) than cold, deep-water skates (higher rmax). We hypothesise that this pattern is likely driven by their different reproductive strategies as live-bearing rays have fewer offspring compared to egg-laying skates, and caution that future research should focus on understanding differences in the mortality schedule of juveniles and sub-adults to understand if survival to maturity is comparable. Our findings highlight the high vulnerability of warm, shallow-water ray species to overexploitation and other threats due to their intrinsically low maximum population growth rates. These differences in rmax have conservation implications for our understanding of the geographic patterns in extinction risk, suggesting that tropical rays are more intrinsically sensitive.