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. 

Rogest Designs New REEF Flag T-Shirt

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A great way to wear REEF! Famoust marine life artist, Rogest, took his famous dotty style to the REEF logo. The dotty REEF Flag is on the front and "Diving that Counts" is proudly displayed on the back. Available in two colors - Charcoal Gray and Indigo Blue. Head over to the REEF Store today and get yours. We have also added several new Pacific marine life ID books and new waterproof ID cards. Go check them out! www.REEF.org/store

REEF Announces New Board Members

REEF Board of Trustees (l-r): Alex Alexiou, Paul Humann, Andy Dehart, Ned DeLoach, Anna DeLoach, Bob Ramin, Jim Dalle Pazze, and Peter Hughes.

For more than 20 years, REEF has been conserving marine ecosystems through education, service, and research. It’s an exciting time for REEF as we work hard to extend the reach of our innovative marine conservation programs. One way REEF is doing this is by inviting diverse leaders to the Board of Trustees to help guide the foundation, including these three new members:

Peter A. Hughes is the Founder of the DivEncounters Alliance, a group of independent live-aboard dive operators. Peter is one of the diving world’s foremost live-aboard operators, having spent more than forty years in the dive industry and over the past 25 years, building his former live-aboard company, Peter Hughes Diving, Inc.

Alexander Alexiou, is a successful Broker for Island Real Estate based in Harbour Island, Bahamas. He has traveled extensively and brings unique insight into the culture and ecology of islands throughout the tropical western Atlantic.

Robert Ramin, formerly the Executive Director of the National Aquarium in Washington, DC, is now the Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Animal Rescue League. He has extensive fundraising and membership development experience and has been a leader at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Management Schools for the past 16 years.

Peter, Alex and Bob join REEF co-founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, Jim Dalle Pazze, Andy Dehart, Anna DeLoach, and Marty Snyderman on the REEF Board of Trustees. Welcome!

Please Help Us Reach Our Goal To Support REEF Interns

Five days remain in our fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 for our REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program, and we are only halfway there! Help us reach our goal by donating today. Please consider supporting these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills and provide REEF with invaluable program support. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are involved in many aspects in the day-to-day running of REEF, and many have gone on to work in academia, at government agencies, or for other ocean conservation non-profits. Your donation will help sponsor an intern, covering living expenses, mentoring and training, and diving opportunities during their four-month experience. To those who have donated already, thank you for making such a tremendous impact on the future of REEF’s interns and aspiring marine conservationists.

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.

Upcoming Fishinars - Sand Dwellers, Life on Oil Platforms, Sharkinar, and more!

Don't miss the Sharkinar on October 22nd. Sand Tiger Shark photo by Jeffrey Haines.

We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this fall - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? Fishinars coming up include:

  • Playing in the Sandbox: Top 12 Sand Dwellers of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, October 7th
  • Sharkinar! - Dr. Dean Grubbs, Florida State University, October 22nd
  • That Face, That Face, That Wonderful Face! Top 12 Blennies of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, November 4th
  • What I Did on My Fall Vacation - Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil and Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, UC Santa Barbara, November 10th
  • Lionfish Myth Busters, Liz Underwood, December 3rd

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub