Phyllopteryx taeniolatus 

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Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Lacepède, 1804)
Common Name(s):
English Weedy Seadragon, Common Seadragon, Lucas' Seadragon
Hippocampus foliatus Perry, 1810
Phillopteryx (sic) elongatus Castelnau, 1872
Phylllopteryx elongatus Castelnau, 1872
Phyllopteryx altus McCoy, 1882
Phyllopteryx foliatus (Shaw, 1804)
Phyllopteryx lucasi Whitley, 1931
Syngnathus foliatus Shaw, 1804
Syngnathus taeniolatus Lacepede, 1804
Taxonomic Source(s): Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Ocean Springs, Mississippi, USA.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-05-16
Assessor(s): Pollom, R.
Reviewer(s): Ralph, G.
Phyllopteryx taeniolatus is a coastal marine seadragon that inhabits rocky reefs with algae and sandy areas with seagrass. The species is threatened by habitat degradation and loss due to pollution and sedimentation, especially in urban areas. A large portion of the species' range does however occur in some less populated areas that are not at risk. Therefore this species is listed as Least Concern.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Phyllopteryx taeniolatus is found along much of the southern Australian coastline, from near Newcastle, New South Wales (approx 32° 56’S) southwards to Actaeon Island, Tasmania (43°32’S) and westwards through Victoria and South Australia to Geraldton, Western Australia (28°46’S) (Dawson 1985, Pogonoski et al. 2002, Stiller et al. 2015).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia)
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – southwest
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):UnknownEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:5000000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):Unknown
Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:Unknown
Lower depth limit (metres):50
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:To date there has been no range-wide population estimate made for Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, but several local studies have occurred. One study conducted at five sites near Sydney and Hobart from 2001-2007 and 2003-2004, respectively, found densities of 10 to 70 animals per hectare, with significant declines at three of the five sites (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2011).  These declines however were not directly attributable to anthropogenic causes, but it is likely given that pollution and invasive species are of concern in the area. Further research is needed to quantify human impacts on the species and to tease them apart from natural cycles and disease outbreaks (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2011). 
In South Australia, a possible contraction in area of occupancy has been mentioned (Baker 2003). Historical records exist from benthic surveys in Gulf St Vincent in the period 1965–1971, where reportedly “numerous weedies were observed” in northern Gulf St Vincent, adjacent to the city of Adelaide (S. Shepherd pers. comm. to Baker 2003). No sightings in this area have been reported to Dragon Search during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Admittedly the lack of recent sightings might be due to the lack of popular diving spots in the northern gulf, and the lack of systematic surveys in recent years (Baker 2003). However, the occurrence of seadragons might have been affected by significant habitat degradation and loss recorded since the 1960s in this part of the gulf. In particular, large areas of seagrass have been lost in waters deeper than 10 m south of a line between Ardrossan and Port Prime (Baker 2003).
Further research and monitoring are needed in order to determine population size and trends in abundance for this species.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations:UnknownPopulation 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:Weedy Seadragons occur over rocky reefs supporting stands of kelp or other macroalgae, or over adjacent stretches of seagrass and sand where it feeds on mysids and small crustaceans (Kuiter 2000a, 2000b). Seagrass and algal affiliations have been recorded with the species Halophila ovalis, Ecklonia radiata, Macrocystis pyrifera, M. angustifolia, Posidinia spp., Amphibolis spp., and Sargassum spp. (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2005, Baker 2009). Individuals have been shown to have broad, overlapping home ranges that can vary in length from 50–150 m, and be up to 50 m wide (Sanchez-Camara and Booth 2004). Baker (2000a, 2009) found that Weedy Seadragons also live in association with sponges. The species’ depth distribution ranges from shallow bays down to reefs at depths of up to 50 m (Dawson 1985).

The breeding season for Weedy Seadragons is July to January. Males carry the eggs externally below their tail and the skin forms a cup on each egg during deposition. Incubation time is about eight weeks and up to about 250 young hatch. Some individuals mature in one year, but most usually breed in their second year when fully grown (Kuiter 1993). Baker (2000a) reports that brooding males have been observed in New South Wales from mid-winter to mid-summer, but never from February to June, despite sightings of over 350 seadragons during this period. A more recent study has confirmed this and also indicated that some males exhibit multiple pregnancies in a season (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2005). Females are also able to produce multiple broods per season (Forsgren and Lowe 2006). The von Bertalanffy growth curve parameters for this species vary based on latitude, and are as follows:  
Sydney: L00=36.28 cm, L0=3.33 cm, and K=1.52 (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2011); Hobart: L00=34.07 cm, L0=3.2 cm, and K=0.91 (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2011)
Also depending on where they are found latitudinally, the species can exhibit variable growth and survival rates (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2011). Slower growth and high survival, as exhibited at higher latitudes, lead to increased longevity, and in the more southerly portion of its range this species is suspected to have a longer lifespan, likely exceeding 10 years (Martin-Smith 2011). Reproduction also occurred later in Tasmanian waters (October to March - Martin-Smith 2011). 

Most of the time members of this species are solitary, but pairing and grouping has been observed (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2006). In the Sydney area and in southern New South Wales, aggregations of between 20 and 40 seadragons have been observed, respectively (Baker 2000a).

Phyllopteryx taeniolatus feeds on mysids, carid shrimps, prawns of the genus Lucifer, and other small crustaceans (Kendrick and Hyndes 2005) The species attains a total length of about 45 cm (Kuiter 1993).
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Phyllopteryx taeniolatus is exploited for the aquarium trade at low levels that are not likely of conservation concern (Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Phyllopteryx taeniolatus is primarily threatened by habitat degradation and loss. Both algae-covered reefs and seagrass meadows have been adversely affected by human activities and loss in quality and quantity of habitat has been documented within its range (Baker 2003). The degradation of habitat is worst near major urban centers (e.g., Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, Hobart), where discharge of storm water and treated sewage leads to eutrophication and increased sedimentation. Losses of seagrass have been particularly severe along the metropolitan coasts and are well documented (Short and Wyllie-Echeverria 1996). Reefs have been more strongly affected by increased rates of sedimentation resulting from human activities such as sand dredging, land reclamation and coastal urban development (Baker 2003).  Declines in these seadragons have also been observed along urban coasts - it is suspected that habitat degradation is playing a role but further research is needed in order to confirm this (Sanchez-Camara et al. 2011). Further population and habitat monitoring are needed to decisively link habitat degradation to population declines. Invasive species including urchins that degrade kelp habitat are an issue as well, and may be contributing to declines.
In Tasmania, the macroalgae-covered reefs on which seadragons occur face another threat. Over the last 20 years, the sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii, has become more common and increased its range around the state. The increase in sea urchins is considered to have resulted from harvesting of rock lobster, a known predator of urchins, and climate change. Grazing by urchins reduces the abundance of kelp and other macroalgae through the formation of urchin barrens. Furthermore, significant losses of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) have been documented over the past 20 years (Edyvane 2003), associated with increased water temperatures. The reduction in macroalgae could adversely affect seadragons although this has not been demonstrated. 
This species is not used in traditional medicine as other syngnathids are. It is taken for the aquarium trade but at low levels that are not likely of conservation concern (Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: There are no species-specific conservation measures in place for Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. Along with all syngnathids, the species is protected from exploitation by the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). This species occurs in several protected areas (e.g. Botany Bay), and is not mentioned in any international legislation or trade regulations.  

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.7. Marine Neritic - Macroalgal/Kelp
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.9. Marine Neritic - Seagrass (Submerged)
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:No
  Systematic monitoring scheme:No
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:No
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Area based regional management plan:Yes
  Invasive species control or prevention:Unknown
In-Place Species Management
  Harvest management plan:No
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:No
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Unknown
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:No
  Included in international legislation:No
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:No
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1. Housing & urban areas
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.2. Commercial & industrial areas
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.1. Habitat shifting & alteration
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.1. Domestic & urban waste water -> 9.1.1. Sewage
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.1. Domestic & urban waste water -> 9.1.3. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.2. Industrial & military effluents -> 9.2.3. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.2. Soil erosion, sedimentation
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.4. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.4. Habitat trends

Bibliography [top]

Baker, J. 2000b. South Australian Dragon Search Project: Preliminary BioregionalSummary of Sighting Data April 1996 to August 2000. Unpublished Report to Marine andCoastal Community Network, September 2000

Baker, J.L. 2000a. New South Wales Dragon Search Project: Summary of Sighting DataAugust 2000. Unpublished Report to Marine and Coastal Community Network, August 2000.

Baker, J.L. 2003. Dragon Search South Australia – Summary of South Australian Sighting Data to January 2003. Internal Report – Dragon Search Community-Based Monitoring Project.

Baker, J. L. 2009. Dragon Search Public Report - Summary of National Sighting Data, 1990 to 2005. Report for Dragon Search Community - Based Monitoring Program. Reef Watch, Adelaide, South Australia.

Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Ocean Springs, Mississippi, USA.

Edyvane, K. 2003. Conservation, Monitoring and Recovery of Threatened Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) Beds in Tasmania – Final Report to Environment Australia. Department of Primary Industries, Water & Environment, Hobart, Australia.

Forsgren, K. L. and Lowe, C. G. 2006. The life history of weedy seadragons, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Teleostei : Syngnathidae). Marine and Freshwater Research 57(3): 313-322.

Gillanders, B. M., Tulloch, A. I. T., and Divecha, S. 2015. Regional Biodiversity Management Plan. Spencer Gulf Regional Sustainability Planning. Report prepared for the Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group. 57 pp.

IUCN. 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-2. Available at: (Accessed: 14 September 2017).

Kendrick, A.J. and Hyndes, G.A. 2005. Variations in the dietary compositions of morphologically diverse syngnathid fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 415-427.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal fishes of south-eastern Australia. Crawford House Press Pty Ltd., Australia.

Kuiter, R.H. 2000a. Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives. A Comprehensive Guide to Syngnathiformes. TMC Publishing, Chorleywood, UK.

Kuiter, R.H. 2000b. Coastal Fishes of Southeastern Australia. Gary Allen, Sydney, Australia.

Martin-Smith, K. M. 2011. Photo-identification of individual weedy seadragons Phyllopteryx taeniolatus and its application in estimating population dynamics. Journal of Fish Biology 78(6): 1757-1768.

Martin-Smith, K.M. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2006. Exploitation and trade of Australian seahorses and their relatives (syngnathids). Oryx 40(2): 141-151.

Pogonoski, J.J., Pollard, D.A. and Paxton, J.R. 2002. Conservation overview and action plan for Australian threatened and potentially threatened marine and estuarine fishes. Environment Australia, Canberra, Australia.

Sanchez-Camara, J. and Booth, D. 2004. Movement, home range and site fidelity of the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Teleostei: Syngnathidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 70: 31–41.

Sanchez-Camara, J., Booth, D. J., and Turon, X. 2005. Reproductive cycle and growth of Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. Journal of Fish Biology 67(1): 133-148.

Sanchez-Camara, J., Booth, D. J., Murdoch, J., Watts, D., and Turon, X. 2006. Density, habitat use and behaviour of the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Teleostei : Syngnathidae) around Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 57(7): 737-745.

Sanchez-Camara, J., Martin-Smith, K., Booth, D. J., Fritschi, J., and Turon, X. 2011. Demographics and vulnerability of a unique Australian fish, the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. Marine Ecology Progress Series 422: 253-264.

Short, F.T. and Wyllie-Echeverria, S. 1996. Natural and human-induced disturbances of seagrasses. Environmental Conservation 23: 17-27.

Stiller, J., Wilson, N. G., and Rouse, G. W. 2015. A spectacular new species of seadragon (Syngnathidae). Royal Society Open Science 2: 140458.

Citation: Pollom, R. 2017. Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T17177A67624517. . Downloaded on 18 June 2018.
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