Hippocampus guttulatus 

Scope: Mediterranean
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus guttulatus Cuvier, 1829
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Long-snouted Seahorse, Seahorse
French Cheval Marin, Hippocampe Moucheté
Spanish Caballito de Mar
Hippocampus filamentosus Duméril, 187O
Hippocampus hippocampus ssp. microcoronatus Slastenenko, 1938
Hippocampus hippocampus ssp. microstephanus Slastenenko, 1937
Hippocampus longirostris Schinz, 1822
Hippocampus ramulosus Leach in Leach & Nodder, 1814
Taxonomic Source(s): Lourie, S.A., Pollom, R.A. and Foster, S.J. 2016. A global revision of the seahorses Hippocampus Rafinesque 1810 (Actinopterygii: Syngnathiformes): Taxonomy and biogeography with recommendations for future research. Zootaxa 4146(1): 1-66.
Taxonomic Notes: All Black Sea specimens examined thus far have been genetically identified as Hippocampus guttulatus, with no evidence of a separate species (Woodall 2009). This supersedes previous suggestions that a new and different species or subspecies inhabits the Black Sea.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-03-08
Assessor(s): Pollom, R.
Reviewer(s): Allen, D.J. & Numa, C.
Contributor(s): Woodall, L., Quignard, J.P., Palmeri, A., Massuti, E. & Tunesi, L.
Mediterranean regional assessment: Near Threatened (NT)

The species is considered to be present throughout the Mediterranean Sea, although specific records are scarce or absent for some parts. Declines have been noted throughout the range of the species in the Mediterranean. In some areas (e.g., France) a major population crash occurred during the 1980s and since then the population has showed no sign of recovery. Threats such as coastal development remain strong and are increasing in magnitude in some areas, such as along the North African coast. Overall population declines are inferred to approach 20-30% over the last 15-20 years (three generations lengths). The species is considered Near Threatened in the Mediterranean Sea as population declines are inferred to approach, but not exceed the threshold for a threatened category (Criterion A). Better quantitative data could indicate that this species may qualify for a higher threat category, and surveys and monitoring are urgently required for this species.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The species is widespread in the Mediterranean Sea. Specific records include from Iberian waters (Curtis 2006, Perez-Ruzafa et al. 2006, Raventos et al. 2006, Verdiell-Cubedo et al. 2006), Balearic Islands (Mayol et al. 2000), Gulf of Lion (Letourneur et al. 2001, Curtis 2006) and Turkish Aegean Sea (Yuksek et al. 2006, Gokce and Metin 2007).

Outside the Mediterranean sea, the species is present along the Atlantic coast from the UK, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands to West Africa, and in the Black Sea (Lourie et al. 2004). It is found at depths between 0.5 m and 30 m.
Countries occurrence:
Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia; Cyprus; Egypt (Egypt (African part), Sinai); France (Corsica, France (mainland)); Greece (East Aegean Is., Greece (mainland), Kriti); Israel; Italy (Italy (mainland), Sardegna, Sicilia); Lebanon; Malta; Monaco; Spain (Baleares, Spain (mainland), Spanish North African Territories); Syrian Arab Republic; Tunisia; Turkey (Turkey-in-Asia, Turkey-in-Europe)
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Mediterranean and Black Sea
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):30
Upper depth limit (metres):1
Range Map:41006-3

Population [top]

Population:In the Mediterranean Sea, the species is widely distributed, but population declines (in some cases extreme) and range reductions have occurred in over-exploited areas and in regions where habitat has been lost. In some areas, such as in France, a major population crash occurred during the 1980s and since then the population has showed no sign of recovery. Based on these regional declines, overall population declines in the Mediterranean are inferred to be at least 20-30% over the last 15-20 years, although there hve been some localised popualtion increases. In the Thau Lagoon (southern France), populations have fluctuated each year, however no long term trend has been observed (2005–2009) (Louisy 2011). In the Arcachon Basin (western France), interviews suggest that the population distribution is very patchy, but to date no trend has been established due to lack of consistent data collection (2005–2011) (Grima 2011).

In the Gulf of Lion, it is reported that this species was easily caught in this area up until the 1980’s. Since that time, it has become rarer and the populations appear to have declined significantly (anecdotal evidence and field experience) (J.P. Quignard pers. comm. 2007). Mayol et al. (2000) state that there have been population declines in the Balearic Islands. Goffredo et al. (2004) remarked that among the 3,061 seahorse specimens caught around Italy, 68% were this species. According to Verdiel-Cubedo et al. (2006), 31 specimens were collected (4.2 to 7.3 cm TL) using seines in the Mar Menor (Spain).

Anecdotal evidence is available in other localities, but without exhaustive surveys and systematic data collection. In the Mar Menor (southern Spain) and Voiotias (Greece), the population size fluctuates greatly each year (2005–2011) (anecdotal evidence, L. Woodall pers. comm. 2012). In other coastal sites, populations have both decreased (Badalona, Spain; J. Ortiz, SASBA, in. litt.; Malaga, Spain; P. Cabrera, in. litt.; Galicia, Spain; S. Valladares, in. litt) and increased (La Herradura, Spain; P. Cabrera, in. litt.).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The species is mostly found inhabiting small home ranges in shallow coastal waters, lagoon systems and estuaries (0.5–15 m; Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004, Curtis and Vincent 2005, 2006; Woodall 2009) but there may be seasonal migration to deeper waters (30 m+) (Boisseau 1967, Garrick-Maidment 2007, Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004). Adults use varied habitats, of all sediment types, macroalgae and seagrass and in addition are often observed on artificial structures, using them as holdfasts (Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004, Curtis and Vincent 2005, Franco et al. 2006, Woodall 2009, Louisy 2011).

The species is seen in different habitats such as rocky areas, sand/silt ripples, sessile invertebrates and sponges in a range of habitat types other parts of its global distribution such as the UK, Bulgaria, Spain, France and Greece (Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004, Woodall 2009, Louisy 2011). As an ambush predator, the species has a wide dietary range that mainly comprises Amphipoda, Anmura, Decopoda and Mysidacae (Kitsos et al. 2008, Gurkan et al. 2011) and thus is associated with highly productive habitats.

It is a seasonal breeder (approx. March to October) with a temperature limited mating and gestation period of around 21 days (Boisseau 1967, Curtis 2007). Predicted annual fecundity is about 900 young and is correlated with fish size, but the size of the male brood pouch is inferred to be a limiting factor for both sexes (Curtis 2007). Males are mature at 109 mm, reproduce at 125 mm and live for approximately five years (Curtis and Vincent 2006). Juveniles (<96 mm) are rarely observed during surveys (Curtis and Vincent 2006, Woodall 2009, Louisy 2011). They spend the first weeks of life as plankton, but nothing more is known about them until recruitment at 96 mm (Boisseau 1967). Juvenile development ex situ is determined by water temperature, food availability and condition at birth (J. Palma pers. comm. 2012).

Adults have low dispersal and limited migration (Caldwell and Vincent 2012). This reduces their ability to colonize new areas, recolonize old ones and in addition reduces their ability to move when habitat becomes unfavourable. Consistent with other seahorses, the species has a genetically monogamous mating system, at least within a breeding season (Woodall et al. 2011), and this may reduce their reproductive potential if their partner is removed from the population (e.g. is caught). However, the species matures at an early age, has rapid growth rates and a short generation time. These traits suggest that it may recover rapidly when direct (e.g. exploitation) and indirect (e.g. by-catch and habitat damage) effects of disturbance cease, but it may be vulnerable to extended periods of poor recruitment (Curtis and Vincent 2006).
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):2

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species has minor localised, commercial fisheries interest in the Mediterranean Sea, where it is occasionally caught and dried for sale as an ornament or souvenir (although this is illegal in most, but not all, Mediterranean Sea states). International trade is required to be documented as sustainable, as the species is listed on CITES Appendix II. There were just four records of international trade of the species reported to CITES between 2004–2010 for the purpose of conservation research (UNEP-WCMC 2012). Seahorse species are, however, often misidentified (L. Woodall pers. obs. 2012). 

Individuals are sold as curiosities and good-luck charms when obtained as by-catch, (France and Portugal; L. Woodall, pers. obs.) and are collected occasionally under permits for display in local public aquariums (Portugal and France; L. Woodall pers. obs.). It is unlikely that these activities threaten the species globally at present.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The major continuing threat to the species is habitat degradation and disturbance through direct anthropogenic activities such as coastal developments and the effect of fishing gear (e.g., trawls and dredges) (Caldwell and Vincent 2012). As it is a shallow coastal species it is extremely susceptible to anthropogenic activities. Habitat degradation through climate change continues across its geographic range and, like other small coastal fish, it is also threatened by pollution from shore run-off and ships (Islam and Tanaka 2004).

They are also caught incidentally in Italy, France, Spain and Croatia (J. Curtis pers. comm. to P. LaFrance 2012). The volume of this trade is unknown, but without appropriate management this trade might represent a threat to the species.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The entire genus Hippocampus was listed in Appendix II of CITES in November 2002 with implementation of the listing in 2004. Hippocampus guttulatus has been listed under OSPAR, European CITES (Curd 2009), the Bern Convention and Barcelona Convention (Abdul Malak et al. 2011).

Regionally, it is listed as Near Threatened in the Mediterranean (Abdul Malak et al. 2011) and Endangered in Croatia (Jardas et al. 2007). The species is listed in National Red Data Books in France, Portugal and Slovenia (Yankova 2012).

Habitat protection and management actions geared towards conservation goals are needed to ensure the survival of wild populations in the Mediterranean region.

Further research on the biology, ecology, habitat, abundance and distribution of the species is needed. Long-term monitoring is required for this species across its geographic range focusing on population trends, harvest level trends and habitat trends.

Citation: Pollom, R. 2016. Hippocampus guttulatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41006A90859949. . Downloaded on 23 September 2017.
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