Hippocampus comes 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus comes
Species Authority: Cantor, 1849
Common Name(s):
English Tiger Tail Seahorse
Hippocampus mannulus Cantor, 1849
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.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2bd+4bd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2013-09-15
Assessor(s): Lim, A.
Reviewer(s): Morgan, S.K., Pollom, R. & Ralph, G.
Contributor(s): Wiswedel, S.
Hippocampus comes is listed as Vulnerable (VU A2bd+4bd) based on suspected declines of 30-50% caused by incidental catch, targeted catch and habitat degradation. Given that H. comes is among the most commonly traded (Evanson et al. 2011) seahorse species, particularly dried for traditional medicine trade and live for the aquarium trade, evidence of declines in seahorse availability raises concern for this species.

Population decline in other areas outside of the Philippines remain unknown (Morgan and Lourie, 2006) but the abundances of H. comes surveyed in several  islands of the Philippines where fishing occurs are low and there is also evidence in declines in the availability of seahorses in general, including H. comes (Perante et al. 2002, Morgan and Lourie, 2006). Although more recent data do not exist, an increasing human population combined with only minor successes in conservation indicate that the threats outlined here are and will be persisting into the future.

A precautionary listing of Vulnerable (VU A2cd+4cd) is warranted, inferring overall numeric declines of 30-50% in the past and future.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

Hippocampus comes occurs in coastal areas of the southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Andaman Islands.

Countries occurrence:
India (Andaman Is.); Indonesia; Malaysia; Philippines; Singapore; Thailand; Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):20
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:While detailed population numbers of H.comes remain unknown, the species has been studied in situ in the central Phillipines since 1995 (Vincent and Parajo 1997, Perante et al. 2002, Morgan and Vincent 2007, Morgan 2008 (PhD thesis)). Densities of Hippocampus comes around Jandayan Island on the north-western edge of Bohol, were low with a mean density of 0.019 m-2, while densities for the other nearby islands (Cataban, Saag, Sagasa and Mahanay Island, Bohol) were even lower, at 0.00143 m-2 (Perante et al. 2002, Morgan and Vincent 2007). Density varies meaningfully by habitat type and life history stage, where juveniles show marked preference for wild macroalgal beds, versus adults which occur in greatest densities in coral reef environments (Morgan and Vincent 2007).

Densities of H.comes appear to respond to Marine Protected Areas (MPA) where a mean density of 0.019 m-2 was recorded inside protected waters on Jandayan Island, Philippines, as compared to densities outside the MPA (0.0005 m-2) (Perante et al. 2002, Marcus et al. 2007). Density estimates in 2007 were the lowest recorded for H.comes with over 90% of surveyed transects containing no seahorses (Marcus et al. 2007). Historical, anecdotal reports from fishers in Bohol mentioned densities up to 20 individual m-2: although there are known discrepancies with historical fisher data (O’Donnell et al. 2010) there is no doubt that there has been a significant decrease in seahorse densities in areas with active fisheries.

In Malaysia and Thailand, fishers and traders reported declines in seahorse supply, including Hippocampus comes (Perry et al. 2010). Data from the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Trade Database show a decline in trade volume from Thailand (6.5 million individuals in 2004 to 3.7 million individuals in 2008) while Malaysia showed an increasing trend from 2,500 individuals in 2004 to 595,000 individuals in 2008 (Evanson et al. 2011).

The longevity of these animals is estimated to be 3.2 years and the estimated age of maturity is at 3.8 months (Morgan and Vincent 2013). Declines under criterion A must be considered over 10 years, which constitutes longer than three generations. Fishers in Bohol, central Philippines, reported a decline in mean catch per unit effort (CPUE) from 24 seahorses per night per fisher in 1986–1990 to 2.9 seahorses per night per fisher in 1996–1999 (Morgan and Lourie 2006). Declines in CPUE have been estimated throughout central Philippines: CPUE in Bohol declined by 67% in lantern fishing between 1980–2000, Eastern Samar by 93% in lantern fishing CPUE between 1980–2000, Surigao del Norte by 100% in beach seining CPUE between 1975–2006 (A. Maypa, unpublished in Morgan and Lourie 2006).

The declines in CPUE over the past show a suspected decline of at least 70% (Vincent and Pajaro  1997, A. Maypa unpublished data in Morgan and Lourie  2006). As the central Philippines is where the species is believed to occur at greatest natural densities, and because it is reasonable that the threats facing this species here would be similar throughout it’s range (Morgan and Lourie 2006), we conservatively assume a decline of at least 30-50% throughout its range between 1995 and 2005.

More recent data for Hippocampus comes is unavailable, however growing human populations in the range countries indicate that these threats are not likely to have subsided, and likely will not in the near future.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:Unknown
Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:UnknownAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

H. comes is found on coral reefs, in seagrass beds, and in macroalgal beds in shallow waters from the low tide line to 10m with the deepest record of 20m. (Lourie et al. 2004; Morgan and Lourie 2006). This species displays ontogenetic differences in its use of habitat at the scale of reef zones with juveniles (25 -105 mm, standard length) most abundant in wild macro-algal beds (Sargassum spp.) while adults (>105 mm, standard length) occupy both coral reefs and macro-algal habitats (Morgan and Lourie 2006, Morgan and Vincent 2007, Morgan 2008 (PhD thesis)). In reefs, adults prefer to seek shelter within or under structures by day and rise up to grasp holdfasts by night (Perante et al. 2002, Morgan and Vincent 2007). 

Like all seahorse species, H. comes exhibits ecological and life-history traits which may make it particularly susceptible to threats.  These traits include vital parental care, high site fidelity (Perante et al. 2002), highly structured social behaviour (Vincent and Sadler 1995), and relatively sparse distributions (Lourie et al. 2004). Other similarly important traits in H. comes and other seahorses, such as small body size, fast growth rate, ontogenetic shifts in habitat preference, crepuscular  habits and high fecundity may grant resilience towards exploitation pressures (Perante et al. 2002; Morgan and Vincent, 2007). However, given increasing fishing pressures, habitat degradation of many heavily fished inshore waters and some traits that convey vulnerability, the species is at risk of overexploitation. The importance of life history parameters in determining response to exploitation has been demonstrated for a number of species (Jennings et al. 1998, Foster and Vincent 2004).

Generation Length (years):1.42

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Hippocampus comes is considered valuable to the aquarium, traditional medicine and curio trades and is among the most commonly traded seahorse species (Vincent 1996, Perry et al. 2010, Evanson et al, 2011),. 

Live H.comes sold for aquarium and hobbyist purposes are often caught directly from the wild (Vincent 1996). Live, captive-born individuals of the species are bred and traded for commercial purposes in Vietnam (UNEP-WCMC 2012a), which it is reported as the only country where the species is bred in captivity (FAO 2010). All Hippocampus species were listed on CITES Appendix II in 2004: over 72 thousand H. comes were traded between 2004 and 2010 from seven Asian countries (Evanson et al. 2011; UNEP-WCMC 2012a) while on a global scale, tens of millions of seahorses are traded each year among as many as 80 countries (Vincent et al. 2013).

The greatest densities of Hippocampus comes have been reported in the Philippines (Perante et al. 2002; Morgan and Lourie 2006). Historical reports recount up to 20 ind m-2  in 1969 (Vincent 1996). Trade in seahorses was banned in the Philippines through The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998: Republic Act No. 8550 (UNEP-WCMC 2012b). However, illegal fishing and trade is acknowledged to be ongoing in countries such as Cambodia and the Philippines (UNEP-WCMC 2012b).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The main threats to Hippocampus comes are direct exploitation, habitat destruction and incidental catch. The species is exploited to supply the traditional medicine, curio and aquarium trades (Perry et al. 2010, Lim et al. 2011). the majority of which is sourced from incidental bycatch in commercial and artisanal fishers throughout its range in Malaysia and Thailand (Choo and Liew 2003, Perry et al. 2010), Vietnam (Giles et al. 2006) and the Philippines (Vincent et al. 2007).

Pressures on H. comes in the central Philippines is particularly high with target capture, destructive fishing and macroalgal farming (Morgan and Vincent 2007). The reefs that comprise a major habitat for this species are threatened by land-based activities such as coastal development, siltation and pollution (Burke et al. 2002). Destructive fisheries such as blast fisheries and cyanide fishing occur throughout the species’ range, causing coral and seagrass damage (Gomez 1997, Short et al. 2011), These habitats are vital to the ecology of H. comes (Morgan and Vincent 2007) and the decline in suitable habitats throughout the species range raises the probability of decline in population in addition to other threats. Extremely low H. comes densities were reported in areas with poor benthic quality suggesting that activities which reduce the variety of benthic forms may negatively affect the species (Marcus et al. 2007).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Hippocampus comes has been studied in situ in the central Philippines since 1995, as part of a conservation program in an area where this species is of considerable economic importance (Vincent and Pajaro unpubl. data). It is listed on CITES Appendix II, and as such all international trade is regulated.  Multiple protected areas occur within the species' range, however their efficacy is not well understood.

Citation: Lim, A. 2015. Hippocampus comes. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41008A54908262. . Downloaded on 23 January 2017.
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