A synthesis of European seahorse taxonomy, population structure, and habitat use as a basis for assessment, monitoring and conservation

Authors Organisations
  • Lucy C. Woodall(Author)
    University of Oxford
  • Francisco Otero-Ferrer(Author)
    Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
  • Miguel Correia(Author)
    Zoological Society of London
    University of Algarve
  • Neil Garrick-Maidment(Author)
    The Seahorse Trust
  • Paul Shaw(Author)
  • Heather J. Koldewey(Author)
    Zoological Society of London
    University of Exeter
Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Article number165
JournalMarine Biology
Early online date05 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2018
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Accurate taxonomy, population demography, and habitat descriptors inform species threat assessments and the design of effective conservation measures. Here we combine published studies with new genetic, morphological and habitat data that were collected from seahorse populations located along the European and North African coastlines to help inform management decisions for European seahorses. This study confirms the presence of only two native seahorse species (Hippocampus guttulatus and H. hippocampus) across Europe, with sporadic occurrence of non-native seahorse species in European waters. For the two native species, our findings demonstrate that highly variable morphological characteristics, such as size and presence or number of cirri, are unreliable for distinguishing species. Both species exhibit sex dimorphism with females being significantly larger. Across its range, H. guttulatus were larger and found at higher densities in cooler waters, and individuals in the Black Sea were significantly smaller than in other populations. H. hippocampus were significantly larger in Senegal. Hippocampus guttulatus tends to have higher density populations than H. hippocampus when they occur sympatrically. Although these species are often associated with seagrass beds, data show both species inhabit a wide variety of shallow habitats and use a mixture of holdfasts. We suggest an international mosaic of protected areas focused on multiple habitat types as the first step to successful assessment, monitoring and conservation management of these Data Deficient species