Using a long-term fisheries-independent data set, we tested the 'shark nursery area concept' proposed by Heupel et al. (2007) with the suggested working assumptions that a shark nursery habitat would: (1) have an abundance of immature sharks greater than the mean abundance across all habitats where they occur; (2) be used by sharks repeatedly through time (years); and (3) see immature sharks remaining within the habitat for extended periods of time. We tested this concept using young-of-the-year (age 0) and juvenile (age 1+ yr) bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas from gill-net surveys conducted in Texas bays from 1976 to 2006 to estimate the potential nursery function of 9 coastal bays. Of the 9 bay systems considered as potential nursery habitat, only Matagorda Bay satisfied all 3 criteria for young-of-the-year bull sharks. Both Matagorda and San Antonio Bays met the criteria for juvenile bull sharks. Through these analyses we examined the utility of this approach for characterizing nursery areas and we also describe some practical considerations, such as the influence of the temporal or spatial scales considered when applying the nursery role concept to shark populations.
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An empirical test of the 'shark nursery area concept' in Texas bays using a long-term fisheries-independent data set