USM graduate student conducts unique guitarfish research

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Fri, 08/04/2022 – 16:01 | By: Van Arnold

University of Southern Mississippi (USM) graduate student Bryan L. Huerta Beltrán hopes his guitarfish research will find the right fit in grants from the Save our Seas Foundation.

Beltrán, a native of Mexico City, Mexico, is pursuing a master’s degree while working under USM Ecology and Organism Professor Dr. Nicole Phillips. His research focuses on the guitar ray of the genus Pseudobatos that are within Mexico’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which includes the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of California, and Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Beltrán notes that currently eight of the nine described Pseudobatos worldwide guitarfish are recorded in the Mexican EEZ, but to date it is unknown which species are commonly traded in Mexican markets for various purposes, such as food consumption or for medicinal purposes.

To complicate matters, identifying these species of guitarfish by looking only at morphological characteristics can be difficult because many guitarfish look alike. This is especially difficult in countries like Mexico, as multiple species can be found in one location.

“This is where my work will be useful as I am building a genetic reference library of the eight guitarfish species found in Mexico to be able to reliably identify which species are traded in Mexican markets,” Beltrán said. “Usually, guitarfishes are cut and modified by removing unique morphological traits. Therefore, this makes them almost impossible to identify just by looking at morphological characteristics.

He points out that several guitarfish found in Mexico are threatened with extinction. Therefore, it is important to know which exact species of guitarfish are traded, as each species can withstand different levels of fishing pressure depending on its life cycle.

The guitarfish is a family of rays. They are known for their elongated body with a flattened head and trunk and small, ray-shaped wings. Beltrán says his affinity for these sea creatures dates back to his childhood.

“Ever since I was a child, I have always had an interest in wildlife, but I particularly had a lifelong passion for sharks, rays and rays, which are collectively referred to as elasmobranchs,” he said. he declares. “What I find particularly interesting about guitarfishes is that they mix the characteristics of sharks and rays, which makes them unique. They have a shark-like appearance and have the iconic dorsal fins that are usually attributed to sharks but, in fact, they are rays, so it’s almost like I’m studying sharks and rays at the same time.

The Save Our Seas Foundation is a philanthropic organization committed to protecting the world’s oceans. It was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 2003. Focusing primarily on charismatic threatened fauna (endangered elasmobranchs, or sharks, rays and rays) and their habitats, the Save Our Seas Foundation supports research projects, conservation and education worldwide.

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