Preservation causes shrinkage in seahorses: implications for biological studies and for managing sustainable trade with minimum size limits
- The implications of shrinkage associated with desiccation and ethanol preservation for seahorses (genus Hippocampus) were investigated using Hippocampus guttulatus (European long-snouted seahorse) as a model. Specifically, this research addressed the implications of preservation for taxonomy and life history studies and the application of minimum size limits (MSL) for managing seahorse trade.
- In 2004, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listed all seahorse species on its Appendix II, and recommended a 10 cm MSL as an interim means of ensuring sustainable international trade. Inconsistencies in seahorse measurement methods and repeatability posed challenges for applying the MSL. Moreover, the shrinking effect of desiccation on body length observed in other fish was assumed to be negligible for seahorses because of their high degree of ossification.
- Changes in seahorse sizes were measured following immersion in ethanol and desiccation. H. guttulatus shrank on average by 0.1–2.3% when preserved in ethanol and 3.0–6.4% when dried, depending on the trait measured. Similar trends were observed in a sample of H. kuda (yellow seahorse). Specimen posture during drying, and measurement methods also influenced estimates of size.
- Based on the shrinkage observed, 14–44% of captured seahorses that are dried could shrink to below the recommended MSL, even if all seahorses were longer than the MSL at capture. This demonstrates that small changes in body lengths can have significant implications for trade of species managed with size limits.
- Recommendations are to (1) standardize seahorse measurement methods, (2) consider the effects of preservation and measurement technique on body lengths, and apply appropriate corrections in comparative studies and when developing fisheries management strategies, and (3) adjust size limits at the point of capture to ensure retained seahorses comply with the CITES recommended MSL.
Nadeau, J.L., Curtis, J.M., & S.A. Lourie (2009). Preservation causes shrinkage in seahorses: implications for biological studies and for managing sustainable trade with minimum size limits. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 19(4), 428-438. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.1002