Combining abundance and performance data reveals how temperature regulates coastal occurrences and activity of a roaming apex predator

Nicholas L. Payne*, Carl G. Meyer, James A. Smith, Jonathan D.R. Houghton, Adam Barnett, Bonnie J. Holmes, Itsumi Nakamura, Yannis P. Papastamatiou, Mark A. Royer, Daniel M. Coffey, James M. Anderson, Melanie R. Hutchinson, Katsufumi Sato, Lewis G. Halsey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


The redistribution of species has emerged as one of the most pervasive impacts of anthropogenic climate warming, and presents many societal challenges. Understanding how temperature regulates species distributions is particularly important for mobile marine fauna such as sharks given their seemingly rapid responses to warming, and the socio-political implications of human encounters with some dangerous species. The predictability of species distributions can potentially be improved by accounting for temperature's influence on performance, an elusive relationship for most large animals. We combined multi-decadal catch data and bio-logging to show that coastal abundance and swimming performance of tiger sharks Galeocerdo cuvier are both highest at ~22°C, suggesting thermal constraints on performance may regulate this species' distribution. Tiger sharks are responsible for a large proportion of shark bites on humans, and a focus of controversial control measures in several countries. The combination of distribution and performance data moves towards a mechanistic understanding of tiger shark's thermal niche, and delivers a simple yet powerful indicator for predicting the location and timing of their occurrences throughout coastlines. For example, tiger sharks are mostly caught at Australia's popular New South Wales beaches (i.e. near Sydney) in the warmest months, but our data suggest similar abundances will occur in winter and summer if annual sea surface temperatures increase by a further 1–2°C.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1884-1893
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number5
Early online date08 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • accelerometer
  • biogeography
  • climate change
  • fundamental niche
  • overall dynamic body acceleration
  • physiological ecology
  • realized niche
  • species distribution modelling
  • tagging
  • thermal performance curve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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