Allowing macroalgae growth forms to emerge: Use of an agent-based model to understand the growth and spread of macroalgae in Florida coral reefs, with emphasis on Halimeda tuna

Aletta T. Yñiguez, John W. McManus, Donald L. DeAngelis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


The growth patterns of macroalgae in three-dimensional space can provide important information regarding the environments in which they live, and insights into changes that may occur when those environments change due to anthropogenic and/or natural causes. To decipher these patterns and their attendant mechanisms and influencing factors, a spatially explicit model has been developed. The model SPREAD (SPatially-explicit Reef Algae Dynamics), which incorporates the key morphogenetic characteristics of clonality and morphological plasticity, is used to investigate the influences of light, temperature, nutrients and disturbance on the growth and spatial occupancy of dominant macroalgae in the Florida Reef Tract. The model species, Halimeda and Dictyota spp., are modular organisms, with an "individual" being made up of repeating structures. These species can also propagate asexually through clonal fragmentation. These traits lead to potentially indefinite growth and plastic morphology that can respond to environmental conditions in various ways. The growth of an individual is modeled as the iteration of discrete macroalgal modules whose dynamics are affected by the light, temperature, and nutrient regimes. Fragmentation is included as a source of asexual reproduction and/or mortality. Model outputs are the same metrics that are obtained in the field, thus allowing for easy comparison. The performance of SPREAD was tested through sensitivity analysis and comparison with independent field data from four study sites in the Florida Reef Tract. Halimeda tuna was selected for initial model comparisons because the relatively untangled growth form permits detailed characterization in the field. Differences in the growth patterns of H. tuna were observed among these reefs. SPREAD was able to closely reproduce these variations, and indicate the potential importance of light and nutrient variations in producing these patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-74
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 10 2008



  • Agent-based modelling
  • Coral reef
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
  • Halimeda
  • Macroalgae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Ecology

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