A. Kirk Kilfoyle, Brian K. Walker, Kurtis Gregg, Dana P. Fisco, and Richard E. Spieler
Reef fishes are an integral component of the southeast Florida coral reef ecosystem that provide as yet unmeasured ecologic and economic benefits to the region. Effective management of coral reef ecosystem components relies on datasets having sufficient spatial and temporal resolution to discern patterns for comparisons now and in the future. Until recently, there was no long-term data collection in place to assess the condition of reef fish resources of the northern Florida Reef Tract (FRT) (northern Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties). An assessment plan for the northern portion of the Florida reef tract was designed through a joint cooperative effort by scientists at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (UM-RSMAS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Southeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA - SEFSC), Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center (NSUOC), in consultation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). This report is a synoptic overview of a five-year dataset that encompasses the collective sampling effort from all partner agencies, and includes survey results from 1,360 sites/Primary Sampling Units (PSUs) sampled during the 2012-2016 time period. The majority of the field work was accomplished through funding provided to NSUOC by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – Coral reef Conservation Program (FDEP-CRCP). Significant amounts of data were also collected by multiple Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) partner agencies that were able to dedicate their time and resources to the project. Field sampling for each year began in May and ran through October.
During the five-year study period, >1.2 million individual fish representing 305 species and 70 families were recorded. Total mean density for all sites and strata combined for all five years was 176 fishes/SSU (±4.6 SEM) (Second-Stage Sample Unit = SSU or site, 177 m2). Multivariate analyses showed patterns in the reef fish communities associated with benthic habitats. Water depth, reef type, bottom relief, and location were the primary determinants of reef fish distribution, with differences in assemblages between shallow (≤10 m) and deep (>10m) sites, high and low relief, and between multiple assemblage regions. In addition, the results indicate that regional populations of many commercially and recreationally important species are severely depleted, with large reproductively active adults being the most heavily exploited and in need of greater protection from fishing pressure.
The dataset provides opportunities for further mining to examine individual species and reef fish assemblage correlations with a host of abiotic and biotic variables. Thus, from both management and ecological-sciences perspectives, these data are a valuable resource. It is already clear there are significant differences in the geographic distribution of reef fishes at local and regional scales. There are interacting strata and latitudinal differences in total reef fish abundance, species distribution, sizes, and assemblage structure. The combination of data from all five years provides a complete regional fishery-independent baseline.
July 28, 2020 - 10:11am
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