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Wetland and Aquatic Research Center - Florida

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7920 NW 71st Street
Gainesville, FL 32653
Tel: 352-378-8181
Fax: 352-378-4956

Dr. Amanda W.J. Demopoulos Benthic Ecologist

Project Title: Trophic coupling and habitat connectivity among coral reef, mangrove, and seagrass fishes and benthic invertebrate communities of the Virgin Islands National Park (VIIS) and Coral Reef National Monument (VICR)

Cushion Star (Oreaster reticulatus)Principal Investigators:
Dr. Amanda W.J. Demopoulos, USGS-SESC Gainesville, FL; E-mail: amandad@usgs.gov
Dr. Debra Murie, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL; E-mail: dmurie@ufl.edu
Dr. Daryl Parkyn, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL; E-mail: dparkyn@ufl.edu

Other Key Cooperators/Collaborators:
Dr. Brian Fry, School of the Coast and Environment, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Dr. Mark Monaco, Center for Coastal Monitoring Assessment-Biogeography, NOAA
John Hargrove, M.S. student, University of Florida; E-mail: tractor@ufl.edu

Statement of the Problem:
Juvenile Schoolmaster snapper (Lutjanus apodus) Marine reserves were developed to combat the decline of marine fisheries resources and biodiversity by protecting integral components of entire reef communities and interdependent habitats and species (e.g. coral reefs and seagrasses). The function of reserves is to control the "top-down" impact of human predation through "no-take" enforcement strategies, but often other factors, including habitat connectivity, stability, and food availability affect the abundance, distribution, and diversity of marine organisms. This is particularly true for species that use a mixture of habitat types throughout their life history, including many coral reef fishes such as grunts and snappers. Juveniles of both of these fish groups may reside in seagrasses and mangroves adjacent to coral reefs and only transition onto the coral reefs as subadults. In addition, certain species are known to move from coral reefs to off-reef seagrass beds to forage on benthic invertebrates during nocturnal hours. The connection between fish habitat utilization, prey use, and fish movement patterns is not known in relation to available invertebrate prey resources in off-reef sites. Developing a better understanding of the habitat use, diet, and resource needs of benthic communities and their interactions with mobile fish and invertebrates is an important component of evaluating the effectiveness of marine reserves in preserving coral reef ecosystem biodiversity.

Project Objectives: Fringing mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), Otter Creek, St. John

  • To determine the diet and important foraging areas of bluestriped grunt (Haemulon sciurus), schoolmaster snapper (Lutjanus apodus), and red hind (Epinephelus guttatus) based on analysis of fish stomach contents and ultrasonic telemetry to track the movement of individuals. This objective will be complemented by invertebrate and prey resource surveys executed within the same identified foraging areas.
  • To estimate and map the spatial and temporal properties of coral reef, mangrove, sea grass, and other non-reef habitats used by juvenile and adult schoolmaster snapper, bluestriped grunt, and red hind relative to their ontogeny and participation in daily diurnal/nocturnal turnover, both within and outside of the reserves.
  • To assess the importance of linkages between food resources and habitat use.
  • To model and map habitat use, diet, and available forage base relative to ontogenetic stage and proportion of time spent within and outside of the reserves.

Possible Outcomes:
(Rhizophora mangle) roots and mangrove oysters Ultimately, this research will identify important critical habitats used by grunts, snappers, and red hind both within and outside the reserves, and quantify the importance of these habitats in serving as refuges, foraging sites, and nursery grounds. This work will complement existing habitat mapping work conducted by NOAA/Center for Coastal Monitoring Assessment (Mark Monaco, Team Leader, CCMA Biogeography). These fish represent an important prey base to higher trophic levels, including jacks and groupers, and have contributed to subsistence fisheries in the region in the past. Their habitat requirements and movement likely influence other species of ecological and economic importance. This study will define their movement patterns, whether they use non-reserve habitat, and define temporal variability in their habitat use (short-term daily feeding and long-term life histories). We will assess the importance of connected ecosystems and habitats, e.g. coral reefs with contiguous seagrass and mangroves, to these fish species. These ecosystems house rich faunal assemblages that may provide the prey base for fish species that move in and out of adjacent communities.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) - click to go to the homepage University of Florida (UF) - click to go to the homepage Louisiana State University (LSU) - click to go to the homepage
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - click to go to the homepage National Park Service (NPS) - click to go to the homepage

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