Sharks and rays are generally solitary creatures, but reef manta rays form social relationships and interact with each other like few could’ve imagined. In a first-of-its-kind study, marine biologists used photography to study a population of mantas in Indonesia’s pristine Raja Ampat Marine Park. The results show that rays form social bonds in multiple relationships and actively choose their social partners.
Research by scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation, Macquarie University, the University of Papua, and the University of York is the first to describe the structure of social relationships in manta rays. The study by Rob Perryman et al, titled “Social preferences and network structure in a population of reef manta rays” is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The researchers studied the structure of more than 500 of these groups over five years, in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Marine Park, one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on earth. They found two distinct but connected communities of rays living together. These social communities were quite differently structured, one being made up of mostly mature female rays, and the other a mix of males, females, and juveniles.
“We still understand very little of how mantas live their lives, but we know they are socially interactive, and these interactions seem important to the structure of their populations. Understanding social relationships can help predict manta ray movements, mating patterns and responses to human impacts. That’s essential for conservation and ecotourism efforts,” said lead author Perryman, who is a researcher for Marine Megafauna Foundation and Ph.D. student at Macquarie University.
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Issue 03 - 2019(116)