Original Research

Assessing the effect of tagging and the vulnerability to predation in tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus, Castelnau 1861) in a water-stressed system using telemetry methods

Bayanda Sonamzi, Matthew Burnett, Robin Petersen, Gordon O'Brien, Colleen T. Downs
Koedoe | Vol 62, No 1 | a1649 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v62i1.1649 | © 2020 Bayanda Sonamzi, Matthew Burnett, Robin Petersen, Gordon O'Brien, Colleen T. Downs | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 July 2020 | Published: 17 December 2020

About the author(s)

Bayanda Sonamzi, Centre for Functional Biodiversity, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; and, School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, Mpumalanga University, Nelspruit, South Africa
Matthew Burnett, Centre for Functional Biodiversity, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Robin Petersen, Scientific Services, Kruger National Park, Skukuza, South Africa
Gordon O'Brien, Centre for Functional Biodiversity, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; and, School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, Mpumalanga University, Nelspruit, South Africa
Colleen T. Downs, Centre for Functional Biodiversity, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa


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Abstract

Increase in anthropogenic pressures on freshwater ecosystems, globally and locally in South Africa, has made it difficult to meet environmental flow requirements and maintain these systems. The Letaba-Olifants catchment is one such example, where the upstream water demands place pressure on the river downstream as it flows through the Kruger National Park. We used the activity rates of Hydrocynus vittatus as a line of evidence to assess (1) the effects of telemeter tagging on their activity rates in three potential post-tagging recovery periods and (2) their vulnerability to predation and the causality related to the environmental stressors placed on the river catchment in the Olifants River Gorge, Kruger National Park, South Africa. We determined H. vittatus activity rates as locomotive movement using radio telemetry methods linked remotely to an online data management system. We telemeter tagged nine individuals from 08 May to 28 June 2018. However, only seven fish were successfully tracked for the duration of our study, and two individuals moved out of range of the remote network shortly after release and could not be located. The tagged H. vittatus individuals were found to have reduced activity at least within the first 7 days after tagging compared with the time after that. The results showed that three individuals were preyed on by predators after the tagging procedure recovery period. This coincided with abnormal low flow conditions, where the Letaba River ran dry. African fish eagles Haliaeestus vocifer were the only confirmed predator, whilst predation by other species was also evident.

Conservation implications: Monitoring of H. vittatus using telemetry is a viable tool to use when assessing environmental stressors in remote locations. The abnormally low water levels in the Olifants and Letaba Rivers (cessation of flow in the Letaba River) during our study may have compromised the predator avoidance strategies of tagged H. vittatus and may further be affecting the viability of the H. vittatus populations in Kruger National Park. The synergistic effects of natural and anthropogenic stressors impact negatively H. vittatus populations and potentially other aquatic biotas.


Keywords

fish behaviour; conservation; ecological indicators; environmental stressors; e-flows; fish recovery

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