We are excited to share details of two recent scientific publications that leverage the long time-series of species composition information that our citizen science surveys provide. The first study looked at how reef fish community assemblages have changed over time at several sites in Florida. In particular, the researchers looked for evidence of biological homogenization (increasing species similarity between sites.) Homogenization can alter the ecological function of systems as well as the economic value associated with ecosystems. Dr. Alexandrea Safiq, and colleagues, used REEF survey data to measure biological homogenization by tracking taxonomic changes over a decade across 13 nearshore sites off the Atlantic coast of Florida. Their results were published as a chapter in the book, “From Biocultural Homogenization to Biocultural Conservation” titled Homogenization of Fish Assemblages Off the Coast of Florida. The study found that sites that were closer to populated coastlines, or have been subject to substantial disturbance events, were more likely to show homogenization. Protected reef sites showed little evidence of homogenization. The authors proposed feedback mechanisms between societal values, diver practices, diver experience, and the severity of homogenization. The authors also discussed how baseline knowledge of the ecosystem could influence whether or not people are inspired to take action when reef community structures change.
The other recent scientific paper to be published using REEF data, titled Coral Reefs in Crisis: The Reliability of Deep-Time Food Web Reconstructions as Analogs for the Present, was published in the 2018 book, "Marine Conservation Paleobiology." To conduct the study, Dr. Peter Roopnarine from the California Academy of Sciences and his colleagues used REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project database to make detailed food webs of coral reef ecosystems in several Caribbean locations. That information was used to assess the reliability of historical reconstructions of ocean life from fossilized areas by simulating the fossilization of a highly threatened and disturbed modern ecosystem - a Caribbean coral reef. The study's results indicated that the overall guild diversity, structure, and modularity of the reef ecosystem remained intact, showing that fossil reef communities can be used to understand reef community dynamics during past periods of environmental change.
To read either of these papers, or any of the other 60+ scientific publications that have used REEF citizen science data from the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.