Cross-Shelf habitat occupancy probabilities for juvenile groupers in the Florida keys coral reef ecosystem

W. J. Harford, S. G. Smith, Jerald S Ault, Elizabeth A Babcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem, delineation of reef fish distributions in relationship to habitat patterns is important for improving the design characteristics of fishery-independent surveys. Efficient survey design depends on analysis of fish distribution patterns to inform and improve the precision of future surveys. We used a diver visual survey to quantify occupancy patterns of preexploitation-size Black Grouper Mycteroperca bonaci and Red Grouper Epinephelus morio. The survey was based on a stratified random sampling design with strata reflecting cross-shelf coral reef habitat types. A multiple spatial scale modeling approach confirmed a cross-shelf occurrence gradient for Red Grouper, with higher nearer-to-shore occupancy probability and lower offshore occupancy probability. Black Grouper occurrence followed a latitudinal gradient, with higher occurrence probabilities in the lower Florida Keys than in the upper Keys. Local habitat characteristics measured within reef strata suggested that occupancy relationships for both species varied according to vertical relief. Our analysis also included multilevel slope coefficients (random effects), which revealed unforeseen variance structure in Black Grouper occurrence probability among cross-shelf reef strata. Our study improves on previous qualitative observations of juvenile grouper distributions in the Florida Keys and highlights the use of multilevel models in revealing variance structures of fish distributions not revealed by fixed-effects models. Our analysis contributes to a discussion about foraging characteristics in producing the observed distributional patterns, and we suggest that examining the links between the distributions of forage fishes and larger predators (i.e., groupers) would be a useful step in improving survey stratification schemes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-159
Number of pages13
JournalMarine and Coastal Fisheries
Volume8
DOIs
StatePublished - 2016

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grouper
Mycteroperca bonaci
coral reefs
coral reef
Epinephelus morio
ecosystems
ecosystem
habitat
habitats
reef
reefs
fish
fishery survey
survey design
latitudinal gradient
habitat type
forage
stratification
relief
distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Cite this

Cross-Shelf habitat occupancy probabilities for juvenile groupers in the Florida keys coral reef ecosystem. / Harford, W. J.; Smith, S. G.; Ault, Jerald S; Babcock, Elizabeth A.

In: Marine and Coastal Fisheries, Vol. 8, 2016, p. 147-159.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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