Starck, WA, Estapé CJ & Morgan Estapé, A
From 1958-67, Walter A. Starck II conducted marine biological studies in the area of Alligator Reef, off of Islamorada in the Florida Keys, these included extensive fish collecting. In 1968, he published A list of fishes of Alligator Reef.

Over the half-century since the original Alligator Reef survey, there have been great advances in the taxonomy of Greater Caribbean reef fishes, with numerous changes in scientific names and classification. As part of the update these changes are addressed so as to bring the list to current status.

In 2013 the junior authors (REEF Advanced Assessment Team members) undertook a four-year census of the fishes of the area with a goal to photo-document as many of their sightings as possible. This effort has subsequently entailed 1039 combined dives devoted to fish counts, photographic documentation, or both. During these surveys, they have photographed 278 of the species reported by Starck (1968) plus 35 additional and/or newly described or reclassified species not recorded in the earlier study.

An update of the checklist of fishes of Alligator Reef and environs some fifty years later provides an unparalleled opportunity to evaluate the species richness for a limited reef area, as well as a unique opportunity to explore changes in diversity over a half-century time scale. In the updated study the authors added 107 species and subtracted 5 from the original total of 516 species: thus the checklist now totals 618 species, of 122 families, the most recorded for any similarly sized area in the New World. The additional species records are made up from a number of subsequent collections as well as from a comprehensive effort by the junior authors.

Among the other databases of relevance to the study area used for comparison, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) Shorefishes of the Greater Caribbean by D.R. Robertson & J. Van Tassell and that of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).

REEF maintains an online database of worldwide visual fish-count surveys conducted by volunteer researchers and fish-count enthusiasts. While such surveys are biased towards easily observed species, they are indicative for a large portion of the reef fish fauna and comprise a valuable source of comparative information (Schmitt & Sullivan 1996, Pattengill-Semmens & Semmens 2003, Holt et al. 2013). The local REEF data includes that of the Estapés, who have conducted 185 roving-diver REEF surveys on Alligator Reef. An additional 1807 surveys at 94 sites in the study area have also been conducted by other REEF volunteers (as of July, 3, 2016).

Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation
27
2017
Bernard, AM, KA Feldheim, R Nemeth, E Kadison, J Blondeau, BX Semmens, MS Shivji

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.

Coral Reefs
35:273–284
2016
Montecino-Latorre, D, ME Eisenlord, M Turner, R Yoshioka, CD Harvell, CV Pattengill-Semmens, JD Nichols, and JK Gaydos

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.”

PLoS ONE
11(10): e0163190. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163190
2016
Schultz​, JA, RN Cloutier, IM Côté

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.

PeerJ
4:e1980
2016
Hixon, MA, SJ Green, MA Albins, JL Akins, and JA Morris Jr.

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 http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v558/#theme.

Marine Ecology Progress Series
Vol. 558: 161–165, doi: 10.3354/meps11909
2016
Luis Malpica-Cruza, L, LCT Chavesa, IM Côté

The authors of this study examined drivers of public involvement and success at invasive removal in tournaments (derbies) to catch Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) in the Western Atlantic. Information on 69 lionfish derbies held in the wider Caribbean region from 2010 to 2015 was compiled, including REEF Lionfish Derbies. The authors found that the number of lionfish caught increased with effort and with time since lionfish were established in an area. They also found that derby participation was best predicted by national wealth (GDP per capita) and number of local dive shops. These findings support that, from the point of view of public engagement, derbies should be held in areas where lionfish are well established, and where the pool of potential participants is large. However, alternative strategies may be more effective in areas where few lionfish are present.

Marine Policy
74 (December 2016): 158–164
2016
Johnston, M.W and J. L. Akins

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.

Marine Biology
163: 12
2016
Shideler, GS, DW Carter, C Liese, JE Serafy

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.

Fisheries Research
Volume 161 (January 2015): 156–165
2015
Serafy JE, GS Shideler, RJ Araújo, and I Nagelkerken

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.

PLoS ONE
10(11): e0142022
2015
Thorson, JT, MD Scheuerell, BX Semmens, and CV Pattengill-Semmens
Managing natural populations and communities requires detailed information regarding demographic processes (or status of a population) at large spatial and temporal scales. This combination is challenging for both traditional scientific surveys, which often operate at localized scales, and citizen science designs, which often provide data with few auxiliary information (i.e. no information about individual age or condition). The authors of this study combine citizen science data collected at large scales (REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data) with recently developed statistical demographic modeling techniques. The model analysis included two managed reef fishes in the Gulf of Mexico to estimate demographic trends, habitat associations, and interannual variability in recruitment of Goliath Grouper and Mutton Snapper. The results identify strong preferences for artificial structure for the recovering Goliath Grouper, while revealing little evidence of either habitat associations or trends in abundance for Mutton Snapper. Results are also contrasted with a typical modeling approach to demonstrate the importance of accounting for the statistical complexities implied by spatially structured citizen science data. Results also highlight the utility and management benefits of combining demographic models and citizen science data.
Ecology
dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-2223.1
2014

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