PLoS One. 2022 Aug 4;17(8):e0272359. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0272359. eCollection 2022.
Understanding the links between species and their environment is critical for species management. This is particularly true for organisms of medical and/or economic significance. The ‘Irukandji’ jellyfish (Carukia barnesi) is well known for its small size, cryptic nature, and highly venomous sting. Being the namesake of the Irukandji syndrome, contact with this marine stinger often leads to hospitalization and can be fatal. Consequently, the annual occurrence of this organism is believed to cost the Australian government an estimated $AUD3 billion annually in medical costs and losses for tourism. Despite its economic importance the logistical difficulties related to surveying C.barnesi in situ has led to a paucity of knowledge regarding its ecology and significantly impeded management strategies to date. In this study, we use six years of direct C. barnesi capture data to explore patterns pertaining to the annual occurrence and abundance of this species in the nearshore waters of the Cairns coast. We provide novel insights into trends in medusae aggregations and size distribution and primarily focus on the potential role of environmental drivers for annual C. barnesi occurrence patterns. Using a two-part hurdle model, eight environmental parameters were investigated over four time periods for associations with records of medusa presence and abundance. Final models showed a small amount of variation in medusa presence and abundance patterns could be accounted for by long-term trends pertaining to rainfall and wind direction. However, the assessed environmental parameters could not explain high annual variation or site location effects. Ultimately best-fit models had very low statistical inference power explaining between 16 and 20% of the variance in the data, leaving approximately 80% of all variation in medusa presence and abundance unexplained.