Nursery areas are fundamental for the success of many marine species, particularly for large, slow-growing taxa with low fecundity and high age of maturity. Here, we examine the population size-class structure of the extinct gigantic shark Otodus megalodon in a newly described middle Miocene locality from Northeastern Spain, as well as in eight previously known formations (Temblor, Calvert, Pisco, Gatún, Chucunaque, Bahía Inglesa, Yorktown and Bone Valley). In all cases, body lengths of all individuals were inferred from dental parameters and the size-class structure was estimated from kernel probability density functions and Gaussian mixture models. Our analyses support the presence of five potential nurseries ranging from the Langhian (middle Miocene) to the Zanclean (Pliocene), with higher densities of individuals with estimated body lengths within the typical range of neonates and young juveniles. These results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by O. megalodon over large temporal and spatial scales, reducing early mortality and playing a key role in maintaining viable adult populations. Ultimately, the presumed reliance of O. megalodon on the presence of suitable nursery grounds might have also been determinant in the demise of this iconic top predatory shark.
- Otodus megalodon