Functional extinction of dugongs in China
Lin, Mingli; Li, Songhai (2022), Functional extinction of dugongs in China, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.rfj6q5797
Dugongs (Dugong dugon) experienced a serious population decline in China during the twentieth century, and their regional status is poorly understood. To determine their current distribution and status, we conducted a large-scale interview survey of marine resource users across four Chinese provinces, and reviewed all available historical data covering the past distribution of dugongs in China. Only 5% of 788 respondents reported past dugong sightings, with a mean last-sighting date of 23 years earlier, and only three respondents reported sightings from within the past five years. Historical records of dugongs peak around 1960, and then decrease rapidly from 1975 onwards; no records are documented after 2008, with no verified field observations after 2000. Based on these findings, we are forced to conclude that dugongs have experienced rapid population collapse during recent decades and are now functionally extinct in China. Our study provides evidence of a new regional loss of a charismatic marine megafaunal species, and the first reported functional extinction of a large vertebrate in Chinese marine waters. This rapid documented population collapse also serves as a sobering reminder that extinctions can occur before effective conservation actions are developed.
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