Scientific Papers and Reports

This is an annotated list of the published papers and reports that have included REEF data. The list is in chronological order. Papers that are available for viewing in .pdf format are noted.

Also see the Projects page for links to additional reports.

Johnston, M.W and J. L. Akins. 2016. The non-native royal damsel (Neopomacentrus cyanomos) in the southern Gulf of Mexico: An invasion risk?.

Marine Biology. 163: 12

A diminutive, non-native damselfish (Neopomacentrus cyanomos) was recently discovered inhabiting coral reefs near Veracruz, Mexico—far removed from where it is native in the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific. This publication, co-authored by REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, evaluates the threat of establishment and spread in the invaded range.

The quantities found in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) suggest that the fish has already established a self-sustaining population in this new ecosystem. There is understandable concern, therefore, that this new arrival may become invasive and spread, yet the invasion risk imposed by this fish has not been assessed. In this study, a computer model was employed to deliver a forecast of the potential range of incursion of the damselfish in the GOM spanning 5 years. The model incorporated oceanic water flow in the region, tolerances of this damselfish to the ocean environment, and their reproductive strategy in order to supply a temporal and spatial forecast of their spread. From this study, targeted early detection and removal of the fish can be directed if the fish is deemed a threat to native fauna. On the basis of this work, it is foreseeable that the reefs presently harboring Regal Damselfish will likely see increased abundance of this damsel. Immediate attempts to eliminate the fish, therefore, should be focused in nearshore shallow waters spanning Veracruz to Frontera, Mexico. Further, water flows in the southern GOM are not widely conducive to long-distance transport of marine organisms with pelagic larvae, reducing the risk of this damsel permeating the greater GOM over 5 years. Aside from Regal Damselfish, this study implicitly adds to mounting evidence supporting a biogeographic disconnect between the Veracruz reef complex and the greater GOM and the Caribbean.

REEF surveyors are on the lookout for Regal Damselfish in the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean.

Bernard, AM, KA Feldheim, R Nemeth, E Kadison, J Blondeau, BX Semmens, MS Shivji. 2016. The ups and downs of coral reef fishes: the genetic characteristics of a formerly severely overfished but currently recovering Nassau grouper fish spawning aggregation.

Coral Reefs. 35:273–284

Like many places throughout the Caribbean, Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the US Virgin Islands were overfished until their disappearance in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 2000s, however, Nassau Grouper were found gathering at Grammanik Bank, USVI, a mesophotic coral reef adjacent to one of the extinct aggregation sites, and regulatory protective measures were implemented to protect this fledgling aggregation. The authors of this study addressed two objectives: 1) which factors (local vs. external recruitment) are important in shaping recovery of the USVI spawning aggregations, and 2) the impact of severe past overfishing on the genetic structure of the Gremmanik Bank aggregation. For this second objective, REEF Grouper Moon Project scientists provided genetic samples from individual Nassau Grouper taken from the Little Cayman spawning aggregation, a much larger and less impacted aggregation.

No population structure was detected between the USVI and Cayman spawning aggregations. Additionally, the USVI spawning population showed signs of a genetic bottleneck, typical of greatly reduced populations. These collective results suggest that external recruitment is an important driver of the USVI spawning aggregation recovery. These findings also provide a baseline for future genetic monitoring of the spawning aggregations.

Schultz​, JA, RN Cloutier, IM Côté. 2016. Evidence for a trophic cascade on rocky reefs following sea star mass mortality in British Columbia.

PeerJ. 4:e1980

The US Pacific Northwest and western Canada experienced a mass mortality of sea stars between 2013 and 2015. The sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a previously abundant predator, began to show signs of a wasting syndrome in early September 2013, and dense aggregations disappeared from many sites in a matter of weeks. REEF surveyors certainly noticed, and the decline was reflected in the REEF database. The authors used the REEF database to document the decline regionally, along with a four-fold increase in the number of green sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). The sea urchin increase also resulted in declines in kelp canopy coverage. This type of ecological change or trophic cascade, is where a change in one species impacts many others. Because of the long-term and wide-spread nature of the REEF survey program, our data have proven invaluable in documenting the impacts of the seastar wasting disease.

Serafy JE, GS Shideler, RJ Araújo, and I Nagelkerken. 2015. Mangroves Enhance Reef Fish Abundance at the Caribbean Regional Scale.

PLoS ONE. 10(11): e0142022

Several studies conducted at the scale of islands, or small sections of continental coastlines, have suggested that mangrove habitats serve to enhance fish abundances on coral reefs, mainly by providing nursery grounds for several species known to have different habitats as juveniles and adults. However, evidence of such enhancement at a regional scale has not been reported, and recently, some researchers have questioned the mangrove-reef subsidy effect. Authors of this paper used the REEF database to evaluate mangrove-reef connectivity at the Caribbean regional scale. They specifically asked: (1) Are reef fish abundances limited by mangrove forest area?; and (2) Are mean reef fish abundances proportional to mangrove forest area after taking human population density and latitude into account? They tested for Caribbean-wide mangrove forest area effects on the abundances of 12 reef fishes that have been previously characterized as “mangrove-dependent”. Results showed that average reef fish densities of at least six of the 12 focal fishes were directly proportional to mangrove forest area. This is the first scientific study to show that at a large regional scale (i.e., the Wider Caribbean), greater mangrove forest size generally functions to increase the densities on neighboring reefs of those fishes that use these shallow, vegetated habitats as nurseries.

This study is a great example of the power and impact that long-term, wide-spread citizen science programs such as the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project can have on addressing important ecological and management questions that would otherwise be near impossible to evaluate.

Shideler, GS, DW Carter, C Liese, JE Serafy. 2015. Lifting the goliath grouper harvest ban: Angler perspectives and willingness to pay.

Fisheries Research. Volume 161 (January 2015): 156–165

Despite uncertainties surrounding the population status of the protected Atlantic Goliath Grouper’s, fishery managers are under pressure to end the harvest moratorium in place since 1990. This study sought to measure the proportion of anglers interested in reopening the goliath grouper fishery and to identify key reasons for this interest. The authors also estimated the amount that anglers would be willing to pay for a Goliath Grouper harvest tag (the right sold to an angler to harvest one goliath grouper). REEF data on Goliath Grouper were used to compare with the fishermen-perceived grouper population trends. REEF data have been cited as the best available index of abundance for Goliath Grouper in Florida (see Koenig et al., 2011, http://www.REEF.org/db/publications/9754). The study found that about half of Florida’s recreational anglers believe that the ban on fishing for goliath grouper should be lifted, with many anglers reporting that they feel "there are too many goliath grouper and that their populations need to be controlled." These anglers are willing to pay between $34 and $79 for the right to harvest one goliath grouper in Florida.

As fishery managers work to determine the future of goliath grouper in Florida and the rest of the southeast United States, this study's findings can help them better understand stakeholder intentions and better communicate to the public. Additionally, fishery managers can compare the amount of money recreational anglers are willing to pay to open the fishery to the amount of money other stakeholders, such as recreational divers who visit goliath grouper, are willing to pay to keep the fishery closed.

Green, S.J., N.K. Dulvy, A.L. M. Brooks, J.L. Akins, A.B. Cooper, S. Miller, and I.M. Côté. 2014. Linking removal targets to the ecological effects of invaders: a predictive model and field test.

Ecological Applications. 24: 1311–1322

The study, conducted by Dr. Stephanie Green (OSU/REEF), Lad Akins (REEF), and others, confirms for the first time that controlling lionfish populations in the western Atlantic Ocean can pave the way for a recovery of native fish. Even if it's one speared fish at a time, data are showing that removals can be effective. And not every lionfish need be removed…the research findings document that reducing lionfish numbers by specified amounts will allow a rapid recovery of native fish biomass. Over 18 months, the biomass of native prey fishes increased an average 50-70% on reefs where lionfish numbers were suppressed below target levels predicted to cause prey depletion. On reefs where lionfish numbers remained higher than target levels, the biomass of prey fishes decreased by a further 50%. While complete eradication of lionfish from the Caribbean is not likely, groups are actively removing them from coastal areas (mostly via spear and net). This study is a first step in showing that strategic local efforts that suppress the invasion to low levels can help protect and recover native fish communities affected by lionfish. This ground-breaking invasive lionfish research was conducted as a collaboration between REEF, Oregon State University, Simon Fraser University, and the Cape Eleuthera Institute.

Lotterhos, KE, SJ Dick, and DR Haggarty. 2014. Evaluation of rockfish conservation area networks in the United States and Canada relative to the dispersal distance for black rockfish (Sebastes melanops).

Evolutionary Applications. (2014) 238–259

REEF data were used to validate population estimates of Black Rockfish throughout western Canada, Washington State, and Oregon. These results were then used to evaluate the efficacy of marine reserve networks in these areas. The authors of the study estimated the scale of dispersal from genetic data in the black rockfish, and compared this estimate with the distance between Rockfish Conservation Areas that aim to protect this species (essentially evaluating whether the reserves are "connected" enough). Their findings showed that within each country, the distance between conservation areas was generally well connected. The distance between the networks in the two countries, however, was greater than the average dispersal per rockfish generation.

Jackson, AM, BX Semmens, Y Sadovy de Mitcheson, RS Nemeth, SA Heppell, PG Bush, A Aguilar-Perera, JAB Claydon, MC Calosso, KS Sealey, MT Schärer, G Bernardi. 2014. Population structure and phylogeography in Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a mass-aggregating marine fish.

PLoS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097508

This study, co-authored by scientists from REEF's Grouper Moon Project, evaluated genetic connectedness between Nassau Grouper populations throughout the Caribbean. The authors obtained genetic tissue samples from 620 Nassau Grouper from 19 sites across 9 countries, including the Cayman Islands. They found evidence for strong genetic differentiation among Nassau Grouper subpopulations throughout the Caribbean. These results suggest that, despite a lack of physical barriers, Nassau grouper form multiple distinct subpopulations in the Caribbean Sea. Oceanography (regional currents, eddies) likely plays an important role in retaining larvae close to spawning sites at both local and regional spatial scales. These findings highlight the importance of conservation initiatives such at REEF's Grouper Moon program in the Cayman Islands.

Côté​, IM, L Akins, E Underwood, J Curtis-Quick, SJ Green. 2014. Setting the record straight on invasive lionfish control: Culling works.

PeerJ PrePrints. 2:e398v1

Frequent culling of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish throughout the Caribbean has been shown to cause a shift towards more wary and reclusive behaviour by lionfish, which has prompted calls for halting culls. This paper, co-authored by REEF Lionfish Program researchers, addresses those concerns and reviews research conducted by REEF and other research efforts. Culling successfully lowers lionfish numbers and has been shown to stabilise or even reverse declines in native prey fish. Partial culling is often as effective as complete local eradication, yet requires significantly less time and effort. Abandoning culling altogether would therefore be seriously misguided and a hindrance to conservation. The authors also offer suggestions for how to design removal programs that minimize behavioural changes and maximize culling success.

Archer, SK, JE Allgeier, BX Semmens, SA Heppell, CV Pattengill-Semmens, AD Rosemond, PG Bush, CM McCoy, BC Johnson, CA Layman. 2014. Hot Moments in Spawning Aggregations: implications for ecosystem-scale nutrient cycling.

Coral Reefs. 10.1007/s00338-014-1208-4

This paper presents results from a study conducted as part of REEF's Grouper Moon Project, evaluating the potential ecosystem-level effect of Nassau Grouper aggregations. In particular, the study looked at the impact the spawning aggregation has in creating biogeochemical "hot moments", which occur when a temporary increase in availability of one or more limiting nutrients results in elevated rates of biogeochemical reactions. In this case, the limited nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus, and the temporary increase is resulting from all of the grouper excrement that results when approximately 5,000 Nassau Grouper gather in a small area for 10 days during the spawning season.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub