Seahorse biology & ecology

Seahorse biology & ecology

Understanding the taxonomy, distributions and genetic connections among populations of seahorses is vital for conservation assessments such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List, as well as for determining conservation priorities. 

Project Seahorse is a leading authority on seahorse and seahorse relatives. We have produced first-ever seahorse identification guide (1999), which has become the core reference for seahorse conservation and management action; completed the first synthesis and analysis of seahorse life history (2004); made the discovery that many seahorse species form permanent faithful pairs; and generated the world’s first estimates of seahorse growth and survival rates in the wild.  

Other projects include:

  • Gene flow between populations of the two European seahorses, Hippocampus guttulatus and H. hippocampus
  • DNA sequencing of several species of seahorse across Southeast Asia, and relating the observed genetic patterns to historical events
  • Genetic identification of individuals and breeding patterns of H. abdominalis
  • Using genetic markers for maternity testing in newborn seahorses to determine mating systems\
  • Life history, ecology and conservation of the long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) and the short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus) in Europe
  • Life history parameters and ecology of exploited seahorses to assess the viability of the populations (Philippines)
  • Feeding ecology of the spotted pipefish in seagrass meadows (Australia).
  • Movement and dispersal of exploited populations of the seahorse Hippocampus comes (Philippines)
  • Seahorse movement and spatial use (Portugal)
  • Improving the status of seahorse populations that are under fishing pressure (Philippines)
  • Study of exploited populations of H. comes in situ (Philippines)
  • Mark-recapture studies of the big-bellied seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis) and the Sydney seahorse (H. whitei) to determine population sizes, age, growth and movement (Australia).
  • Role of artificial structures in population dynamics of seahorses, including evaluation of attraction vs. production hypotheses (Australia). 

Program publications 

Kleiber D., L.K. Blight, I.R. Caldwell, and A.C.J. Vincent (2010). The importance of seahorses and pipefishes in the diet of marine animals. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries. DOI: 10.1007/s11160-010-9167-5

Naud, M.J., J.M.R. Curtis, L.C. Woodall and M.B. Gaspar (2009) Mate choice, operational sex ratio, and social promiscuity in a wild population of the long-snouted seahorse Hippocampus guttulatus. Behavioral Ecology 20(1): 160-164 

Nadeau, J.L., J.M.R. Curtis and S.A. Lourie (2009) Preservation causes shrinkage in seahorses: Implications for biological studies and managing sustainable trade using minimum size limits. Aquatic Cons. 19 (4): 428-438 

Randall, J.E. and S.A. Lourie (2009) Hippocampus tyro, a new seahorse (Gasterosteiformes: Syngnathidae) from the Seychelles. Smithiana Bulletin 10: 19-21 

Woodall, L.C., H.J. Koldewey, S.V. Santos and P.W. Shaw (2009) First occurrence of the lined seahorse Hippocampus erectus in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Journal of Fish Biology 75, 1505–1512 

Lourie, S. and R.H. Kuiter (2008) Three new pygmy seahorse species from Indonesia (Teleostei: Syngnathidae: Hippocampus). Zootaxa 1963: 54-68 

Morgan, S.K. and H.M. Panes (2008) Threatened fishes of the world: Hippocampus spinosissimus Weber 1913 (Syngnathidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 82:21–22 

Curtis, J.M.R. (2007) Validation of a method for estimating realized annual fecundity in a multiple spawner, the long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) using underwater visual census. Fishery Bulletin 105:327-336 

Curtis, J.M.R., J. Ribeiro, K. Erzini, and A.C. J. Vincent (2007) A conservation trade-off? Interspecific differences in seahorse responses to experimental changes in fishing effort. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 17(5):468-484 

Marcus, J., M. Samoilys, J. Meeuwig, Z. Villongco and A.C.J. Vincent (2007) Benthic status of near-shore fishing grounds in the central Philippines and associated seahorse densities. Marine Pollution Bulletin 54:1483-1494 

Morgan, S.K. and A.C.J. Vincent (2007) The ontogeny of habitat associations in the tropical tiger tail seahorse Hippocampus comes Cantor, 1850. Journal of Fish Biology 71(3):701-724 

Van Look, K.J.W., B. Dzyuba, A. Cliffe, H.J. Koldewey and W.V. Holt (2007) Dimorphic sperm and the unlikely route to fertilisation in the yellow seahorse. Journal of Experimental Biology 210:432-437 

Wilson, A.B. and K.M. Martin-Smith (2007) Genetic monogamy despite social promiscuity in the pot-bellied seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis). Molecular Ecology 16(11):2345-2352