Distribution and Sighting Frequency of Reef Fishes in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Jeffrey, C.F.G., C. Pattengill-Semmens, S. Gittings, and M. E. Monaco

Conservation
Distribution and Sighting Frequency of Reef Fishes in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (pdf, 1MB)
This study analyzed species richness, distribution, and sighting frequency of selected reef fishes to describe species assemblage composition, abundance, and spatial distribution patterns among sites and regions (Upper Keys, Middle Keys, Lower Keys, and Dry Tortugas) within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) barrier reef ecosystem. Data were obtained from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) Fish Survey Project, a volunteer fish-monitoring program. A total of 4,324 visual fish surveys conducted at 112 sites throughout the FKNMS were used in these analyses. The data set contained sighting information on 341 fish species comprising 68 families. Species richness was generally highest in the Upper Keys sites (maximum was 220 species at Molasses Reef) and lowest in the Dry Tortugas sites. Encounter rates differed among regions, with the Dry Tortugas having the highest rate, potentially a result of differences in the evenness in fishes and the lower diversity of habitat types in the Dry Tortugas region. Geographic coverage maps were developed for 29 frequently observed species. Fourteen of these species showed significant regional variation in mean sighting frequency (%SF). Six species had significantly lower mean %SF and eight species had significantly higher mean %SF in the Dry Tortugas compared with other regions. Hierarchical clustering based on species composition (presence-absence) and species % SF revealed interesting patterns of similarities among sites that varied across spatial scales. Results presented here indicate that phenomena affecting reef fish composition in the FKNMS operate at multiple spatial scales, including a biogeographic scale that defines the character of the region as a whole, a reef scale (~50-100 km) that include meso-scale physical oceanographic processes and regional variation in reef structure and associated reef habitats, and a local scale that includes level of protection, cross-shelf location and a suite of physical characteristics of a given reef. It is likely that at both regional and local scales, species habitat requirements strongly influence the patterns revealed in this study, and are particularly limiting for species that are less frequently observed in the Dry Tortugas. The results of this report serve as a benchmark for the current status of the reef fishes in the FKNMS. In addition, these data provide the basis for analyses on reserve effects and the biogeographic coupling of benthic habitats and fish assemblages that are currently underway.

Key Words: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, biogeography, distribution, reef fish, volunteer data, Reef Environmental Education Foundation

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