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Mario Espinoza

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PhD candidate

Location: Townsville, 034:133

Office phone number: +61 7 4781 6796




I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Costa Rica where I was also involved in several research projects at the Centre of Marine Research and the Zoology Museum of the University of Costa Rica.  I also participated in research internships at the Centre for Shark Research (Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida) and the Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research (Canada). In 2007, I was awarded with a Fulbright Scholarship to study marine biology at California State University.  Shortly after my MSc program I started working at the Centre of Marine Research of Costa Rica.  In 2012, I got an Endeavour Award to do my PhD studies at James Cook University, Australia.

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I am particularly interested in behavioral ecology, management and conservation of elasmobranch fishes. My research project focused on how coastal elasmobranchs use newly restored estuarine habitat in southern California. This information was important to assess the ecological function of restored habitats, as well as to support the creation of new marine protected areas (MPAs). During this project, we tested a new positioning system to quantify fine-scale movements of aquatic species. This new technology can provide an important insight into the behavior and ecological interactions of elasmobranchs. Since 2011, I have been involved in a large collaborative project looking at the distribution, diversity, reproduction and feeding ecology of elasmobranch species associated to the commercial trawling fishery along the Pacific of Costa Rica. This information was extremely valuable to develop management strategies focused on the sustainability of marine resources in Costa Rica. Other projects included the study of trophic dynamics of demersal elasmobranchs, and a detailed description of parasites associated to the Costa Rican elasmobranch fauna. In 2012, I started a PhD program at James Cook University, Australia. For my dissertation, I am using acoustic telemetry, stable isotopes analysis and fisheries independent surveys to examine the movements, habitat use and trophic ecology of reef-associated sharks along the Great Barrier Reef. Ultimately, I would like to gain more information on the patterns and ecosystem consequences of shark declines in aquatic ecosystems.


PhD project

Movement, habitat use and trophic ecology of reef-associated sharks

SupervisorsProf Colin SimpfendorferDr Michelle Heupel, Dr Andrew Tobin

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Recent studies have reported large population declines of reef-associated sharks, which have raised concern worldwide.  Marine protected areas (MPAs) have become a common tool in the management and conservation of coral reef habitats.  However, most MPAs have limited conservation value for highly mobile species such as sharks.  Reef-associated sharks include a wide range of species that differ in their degree of association with coral reefs.  For example, reef-resident sharks or “reef sharks” are known to have a strong site attachment and limited movement between reefs, while non-resident reef-associated sharks are expected to have a lower degree of reef-association, and thus may use coral reef habitats opportunistically or seasonally. Therefore, sharks with a higher degree of reef-association may derive greater benefit from MPAs.

A better understanding of the spatial ecology and behaviour of reef-associated sharks can serve as a management tool to evaluate the extent to which current MPAs protect shark populations.  Detailed information of the feeding ecology of reef-associated sharks will also be essential in understanding connectivity and energy links within and across ecosystems, and ultimately will increase our understanding of the role of predatory sharks in coral reef ecosystems.  The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) provides an ideal system to examine how reef-associated sharks, particularly non-resident species use coral reef habitats.  In this study, abundance data, acoustic telemetry and stable isotope analysis will be used to examine the distribution, movements, habitat utilization and feeding ecology of reef-associated sharks.



Journal Articles

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Clarke TM, Espinoza M, Wehrtmann IS. 2014. Reproductive ecology of demersal elasmobranchs from a data–deficient fishery, Pacific of Costa Rica, Central America. Fisheries Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.fishres.2014.04.003

Tobin AJ, Mapleston A, Harry AV, Espinoza M. 2013. Big fish in shallow water; use of an intertidal surf-zone habitat by large-bodied teleosts and elasmobranchs in tropical northern Australia. Environmental Biology of Fishes. DOI: 10.1007/s10641-013-0182-y

Farrugia TJ, Espinoza M, Lowe CG. 2013. The fish community of a newly restored southern California estuary: ecological perspective after three years of restoration. Environmental Biology of Fishes. DOI: 10.1007/s10641-013-0203-x

Espinoza M, Clarke T, Villalobos F, Wehrtmann I. 2013. Diet composition and diel feeding behaviour of the banded guitarfish, Zapteryx xyster (Jordan & Evermann, 1896), along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Central America. Journal of Fish Biology 82: 286-305.

Espinoza M, Clarke T, Villalobos F, Wehrtmann I. 2012. Ontogenetic dietary shifts and feeding ecology of the rasptail skate Raja velezi and the brown smooth-hound shark Mustelus henlei along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Central America. Journal of Fish Biology 81: 1578-1595.

Espinoza M, Farrugia TJ, Lowe, CG. 2011. Habitat use, movements and site fidelity of the gray smooth-hound shark (Mustelus californicus Gill 1863) in a newly restored California estuary. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 401: 63-74.

Espinoza M, Farrugia TJ, Webber DM, Smith F, Lowe CG. 2011. Testing a new acoustic technique to quantify fine-scale, long-term fish movements. Fisheries Research 108: 364-371.

Farrugia TJ, Espinoza M, Lowe CG. 2011. Abundance, habitat use and movement patterns of the shovelnose guitarfish (Rhinobatos productus) in a restored southern California estuary. Marine and Freshwater Research 62: 648-657.

Espinoza M. 2010. Site fidelity, movements and habitat use of gray smooth-hound sharks, Mustelus californicus (Gill 1863), in a newly restored estuarine habitat. Master’s Thesis, California State University, Long Beach. 91 p.

Espinoza M. 2008. Rapid ecological assessment of tropical fish communities in a gold mine area of Costa Rica. Revista Biología Tropical 56: 1971-1990.

Espinoza M, Wehrtmann I. 2008. Stomach content analysis of the deep-water fish Lophiodes spilurus (Lophiiformes: Lophiidae) associated to commercial shrimp trawls, Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Revista Biología Tropical 56: 1959-1970.

Espinoza M. 2007. Composition and community structure of stream fishes in La Cañaza River, Pacific of Costa Rica. Brenesia 67: 35-43.

Espinoza M, Salas E. 2005. Structure of reef fish community in Catalina’s Island and Ocotal beach, North Pacific of Costa Rica. Revista Biología Tropical 53: 523-536.

In review

Clarke TM, Espinoza M, Wehrtmann IS. Elasmobranch bycatch associated with the shrimp-trawling fishery, Pacific of Costa Rica, Central America. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science.

Espinoza M, Cappo M, Heupel, MR, Tobin AJ, Simpfendorfer CA. Shark distribution patterns, species-habitat associations and implications of marine park zoning. PLOS ONE.

Espinoza M, Heupel, MR, Martín G, Simpfendorfer CA. Predicting the benefits of marine reserve networks for coral reef-associated sharks: a simulation model approach. Ecological Modelling.


Grants, prizes and awards

2012            Best Poster Presentation at AIMS@JCU student event

2012            AIMS@JCU Research Scholarship

2012            International Endeavour Award for PhD studies in Australia

2011            RELAB travel fund for a conference in Brazil

2011            Research grant from the CONICIT (Costa Rica)

2010            AIFRB Hubbs Research Award

2010            California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) Dean’s Graduate List Honor

2010            CSULB Dept. Student Honors

2010            CSULB Biology Department Travel Award

2009            CSULB Richard Loomis Student Award

2009            CSULB Reish Research Student Grant

2009            PADI Foundation Research Grant

2009            Project AWARE Grant

2008            Southern California Tuna Club Student Grant

2007            Fulbright Scholarship for Postgraduate studies (MSc) at CSULB (USA)

2005            IDEA WILD Latin American Award