The queen conch, Strombus gigas, is a highly valued fishery resource in the Caribbean basin, historically second only to the spiny lobster. Currently listed in Appendix II of CITES, historical surveys from the U.S. Virgin Islands have documented wide-spread reductions in population densities. Habitat use and movement patterns of queen conch differ by size and maturity status, making it important to identify areas and habitat types that can play a role in the recovery of this species. We tracked long-term movements and spatial distributions of conch in St. John, USVI, using visual surveys coupled with mark-and-recapture techniques. Juvenile conch exhibited the smallest mean home range (95% contour) and core area (50% contour) at 8470 m2 and 2083 m2, respectively, but had the largest aggregate home range (115,410 m2) and aggregate core area (55,055 m2). Transitional conch had the largest mean home range and core area at 18,203 m2 and 4944 m2, respectively, with an aggregate home range and core area of 113,147 m2 and 59,067 m2. Adults had an aggregate home range and core area of 65,045 m2 and 29,178 m2, with a mean home range and core area of 14,987 m2 and 3929 m2. Adults exhibited the highest daily movement rate at 11.36 m per day, with juvenile and transitional conch having similar rates of 4.66 m per day and 3.44 m per day, respectively. Multiple recapture events of tagged conch showed an ontogenetic shift in habitat use as maturing individuals moved from shallow seagrass habitats into deeper-water macroalgae plains.
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Vol. 47 • No. 2–3