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.

Montecino-Latorre, D, ME Eisenlord, M Turner, R Yoshioka, CD Harvell, CV Pattengill-Semmens, JD Nichols, and JK Gaydos. 2016. Devastating Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease on Subtidal Asteroids.

PLoS ONE. 11(10): e0163190. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163190

Sea star wasting disease has devastated sea star populations on the West coast from Mexico to Alaska. The disease broke out in 2013, causing massive death of several species of sea stars. Infected animals develop lesions that eat away tissue, with limbs dropping off as the animals die. The disease has been linked to a virus, although environmental factors may also be involved. This study presents an analysis of REEF survey data on several asteroid species collected by divers in the Salish Sea over the last 15 years.

The results showed that some species were hit hard, while others increased in number. Populations of sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important keystone predator in the region, dropped dramatically after the beginning of the epidemic. Several other sea star species, including the spiny pink star (Pisaster brevispinus) also declined. Numbers of the less-common leather star (Dermasterias imbricate) and two species of sea urchin, which are prey for sea stars, increased after 2013.

The virus outbreak continues, and will have lasting effects on the ecosystem. Sunflower sea stars have effectively disappeared from the Salish Sea, the study concludes. Likely as a result, numbers of urchins have increased, which in turn will lead to more browsing on kelp. As a result, study co-author, Dr. Joe Gaydos, and his colleagues are currently in discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service to get the sunflower sea star listed as a “species of concern.”

Hixon, MA, SJ Green, MA Albins, JL Akins, and JA Morris Jr.. 2016. Lionfish: a major marine invasion.

Marine Ecology Progress Series. Vol. 558: 161–165, doi: 10.3354/meps11909

This paper is the introduction to a special issue of the journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series, titled "Invasion of Atlantic coastal ecosystems by Pacific lionfish". The issue is a compilation of papers presented at the 2015 special session of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute meeting, which was co-organized by REEF and partner organizations. New findings include mechanisms that enhance the success of the invader, the extremely broad and variable diet of invasive lionfish, the ecological effects of the invader on native fish populations in various environmental contexts, and non-consumptive interactions between invasive lionfish and native predators. The entire issue is available online at

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, 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.

Scyphers, SB, SP Powers, JL Akins, JM Drymon, CW Martin, ZH Schobernd, PJ Schofield, RL Shipp, and TS Switzer. 2014. The Role of Citizens in Detecting and Responding to a Rapid Marine Invasion.

Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12127

The authors of this study (including REEF staff Lad Akins) examined the recent case of Indo-Pacific lionfish invading Northern Gulf of Mexico coastal waters. The authors compared traditional reef fish monitoring efforts to less traditional data including the observations of divers through REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and spearfishers. They found that citizen observations documented lionfish 1-2 years earlier and more frequently than the more traditional monitoring efforts. The authors also explored the willingness of spearfishers to help minimize impacts of the invasion by harvesting lionfish. They found that spearfishers who had encountered more lionfish while diving perceived them as more harmful to the habitat than less experienced divers and were also more likely to participate in harvesting initiatives. The authors also report that encouragement from scientists and managers was a far better motivator than the desire to harvest lionfish for personal consumption. This study demonstrates the value of engaging citizens for assessing and responding to large-scale and time-sensitive conservation problems.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub