REEF Data Used To Evaluate Evolution in Marine Species

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The golden hamlet is one of the more rare species, infrequently found in just a few locations. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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The distribution of yellowtail hamlet, as documented by REEF surveyors and analyzed by Ben Holt et al. This work was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography 2010.

As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist. 

"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).

To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.

Neon Goby Split Into Two Species

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Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops) is found in South Florida and the Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Caribbean Neon Goby (Elactinus lobeli), is known from Belize and Honduras. Photo by Paul Humann.

Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.

The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.

Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, March 2011

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Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

- An educator and researcher from the University of Connecticut is using data as part of a field science class. His students will use the data to evaluate fish populations in advance of their field coursework.

- A postdoc from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce is using data from Stetson Bank in the Gulf of Mexico (part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary) to evaluate changes in the bank's fish populations.

Putting It To Work: REEF Advanced Assessment Team Member Co-Authors Publication on Barracuda

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A large school of young Barracuda. Photo by Peter Auster.

REEF Advanced Assessment Team Member, Dave Grenda, recently co-authored a paper documenting behavioral observations of young Great Barracuda occurring on live bottom sub-tropical reefs primarily at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Georgia. For the past three years Dave assisted University of Connecticut researcher, Dr. Peter Auster, in studying behavioral interactions of piscivores and their prey. During REEF surveys on these cruises, Dave and the other researchers documented young-of-year (YOY) Great Barracuda (those individuals that had very recently settled to the reef, and were between 2-3 inches in length) hunting YOY Tomtate and Silverside that were taking refuge under ledges. Groups of YOY Barracuda would attack, capture, and consume the prey. Prey that escaped the Barracuda retreated to reef edges and were often consumed by bottom-dwelling adult piscivores such as Black Sea Bass, Bank Sea Bass, and Scamp Grouper. These findings indicate that given the strong functional role the young Barracuda have on driving species interactions, greater attention should be given to the roles played by the wider diversity of YOY piscivores recruiting to reef communities. The paper was recently published in the scientific journal Southeastern Naturalist. You can find a link to this and all published papers that have included REEF data on our Publications page. 

Remembering Mike Phelan

One of Mike's passions was studying and protecting the aggregation of Goliath Grouper near his home in Jupiter.

We are saddened to share news about the passing of one of our most active REEF members, Mike Phelan, earlier this month in Jupiter, FL. Mike's enthusiasm for fishcounting was infectious and he often taught fish ID. He had participated in many REEF projects and was a member of our Advanced Assessment Team. REEF co-founder, Paul Humann, remembers Mike’s unsurpassed passion for marine life and conservation. "REEF's database is much more meaningful thanks to Mike's contribution of nearly 1,500 fish surveys over the last 14 years. Working with State of Florida officials he did a great deal of volunteer research on the Goliath Groupers and wrote several scientific reports. His information was used as part of the government decision-making process to continue the Goliath's protection as an endangered species. On one of his last dives he counted 114 Goliath Groupers in a single aggregation, the largest ever recorded. As a personal friend, I along with everyone that knew Mike will miss him greatly - as will the Goliath Groupers who have lost one of their staunchest advocates."

REEF Director of Special Projects and original Executive Director, Lad Akins, regarded Mike as a top-notch team member and an all around great person. "Mike Phelan was a friend of REEF and a friend of mine. If I had to pick a team for anything, Mike would be one of the first I’d pick. He was a joy to be around – always quick in wit and a true professional in his approach to almost any situation. I first met Mike on a REEF fish survey trip in 1998. He quickly became a mainstay of REEF fish survey activities and achieved Golden Hamlet status with over 1,000 fish survey dives. His dedication to protecting marine resources, especially Goliath Grouper, was widely known and his efforts were far reaching in helping to better understand this keystone species. Mike was certainly a member of the REEF family and we’ll miss him much."

Mike will be sorely missed in the REEF community. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to his wife and their children. If you would like to read more about Mike's efforts with REEF, you can read the monthly member spotlight that featured him in June 2011. Mike's obituary and remembrance page is posted here.

Take a Dive Vacation That Counts

If you haven't yet booked your space on one of our 2013 REEF Field Surveys, don't delay. They are filling up fast and several are now sold out. Trips with space remaining are: Southern Bahamas Lionfish Trip with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes (May 18-25), Little Cayman with Paul Humann (July 13-20), Curacao Lionfish Trip with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes (Aug 31-Sept 7), Barkley Sound British Columbia with Janna Nichols (Sept 28-Oct 1), Grenada with Dr. Christy Semmens (Oct 5-12), and Socorro Islands with Marty Snyderman and Andy Dehart (Dec 3-12). Visit www.REEF.org/trips for information and details on all of these great trips. To book your space or ask questions, get in touch with our travel agent at Caradonna - 1-877-295-REEF (7333) or REEF@caradonna.com. 

Upcoming Fishinars - Drums, Rare Cozumel Finds, and Scientific Illustration!

Juvenile Cubuyu, one of several drum species found in the Caribbean that will be covered in the upcoming Fishinar on Drums. Photo by Carol Cox.

Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17

Feel the Beat! The Top 12 Drums & Croakers of the Caribbean - October 29

You do WHAT for a living? Illustrating Fishes - with special guest Val Kells, Scientific Illustrator - November 13

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, March 2014

Spiny Pink Sea Star in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

- Researchers from Western Washington University, Simon Frasier University, and the SeaDoc Society are all using REEF data to evaluate the status of echinoderms in the Pacific Northwest and how the rapid spread of seastar wasting disease will affect populations.

- Scientists from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are including REEF data in an evaluation of the status of Northern Abalone in Washington State.

- A researcher from RSMAS at University of Miami is using REEF data from throughout the Caribbean basin to evaluate populations of predators.

REEF’s Annual Lionfish Derby Series Culminates with a Successful New Event “Corals In & Lionfish Out”

Lionfish OUT. Volunteers at the 5th annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby removed 573 lionfish. Photo by REEF.
Corals IN. Volunteers at the first annual Plant-a-Thon planted 765 coral recruits. Photo by Tim Grollimund.

REEF teamed up with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) during the second week of September to host the first-ever “Corals In & Lionfish Out,” a series of events to engage and educate the public while raising funds for coral restoration and invasive lionfish removal efforts in the Florida Keys. “Corals In & Lionfish Out” coincided with REEF’s Fifth Annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby, which was held at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Sept. 13. During the Derby, 15 teams of divers and snorkelers competed from sunrise until 5PM, and removed a total of 573 lionfish from reefs in the Upper Keys. In addition to the 79 Derby participants, many other Florida Keys residents and visitors came to the Derby to sample lionfish ceviche, witness lionfish dissections, and learn more about the lionfish invasion. The Key Largo Lionfish Derby was the fourth and final in REEF’s 2014 Derby series, which collectively removed 2,677 lionfish from reefs in South Florida and The Bahamas.

The events leading up to the Key Largo Lionfish Derby included REEF’s monthly “Fish and Friends” social, which featured a presentation on invasive lionfish by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Elizabeth Underwood, REEF Lionfish Program Manager. Ken Nedimyer, the Founder and President of CRF, also shared a lecture about the history and future of coral restoration in the Florida Keys and ways to become involved in the work. Following this seminar, CRF held its Coral Plant-a-Thon on September 11. During the one-day Plant-a-Thon, 765 corals were planted by 11 divers in near-shore patch reefs in the Upper Keys. In conjunction with the week’s outstanding coral planting and lionfish removal efforts, more than $1,000 was raised to support CRF and REEF’s marine conservation programs.

REEF's Month of Membership Madness

At the end of this month, keep your eyes peeled for an announcement about REEF’s Month of Membership Madness! There are lots of exciting ways to get involved in April, in honor of Earth Day. So, be sure to check your inbox, and help us spread the word about the great work that REEF does to support ocean conservation, education, and research.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub