TitleDynamics of larval fish assemblages over a shallow coral reef in the Florida Keys
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsSponaugle, S, Fortuna, J, Grorud, K, Lee, T
JournalMarine Biology
Type of ArticleJournal Article

Few time series collections have been made of the larval ichthyofauna in waters directly above shallow coral reefs. As a result, relatively little is known regarding the composition and temporal dynamics of larval fish assemblages in shallow-reef waters, particularly those near a major western boundary current. We conducted a series of nightly net tows from a small boat over a shallow reef (Pickles Reef) along the upper Florida Keys during four new moon and three third-quarter moon periods in July (two new moons), August, and September 2000. Replicate tows were made after sunset at 0-1 m and at 4-5 m depth to measure the nightly progression in community composition, differences in depth of occurrence, and abundance and diversity with lunar phase. A total of 66 families was collected over the 3-month period, with a mean (+/-SE) nightly density of 23.7+/-2.1 larvae per 100 m(3) and diversity of 24.2+/-0.9 taxa per tow. A total of 28.8% of the catch was composed of small, schooling fishes in the families Atherinidae, Clupeidae, and Engraulidae. Of the remaining catch, the top ten most abundant families included reef fishes as well as mangrove and oceanic taxa (in descending order): Scaridae, Blennioidei (suborder), Gobiidae, Paralichthyidae, Lutjanidae, Haemulidae, Labridae, Gerreidae (mangrove), Balistidae, and Scombridae (oceanic). These near-reef larval fish assemblages differed substantially from those collected during previous offshore collections. Taxa such as the Haemulidae were collected at a range of sizes and may remain nearshore throughout their larval period. Overall, the abundance and diversity of taxa did not differ with depth (although within-night vertical migration was evident) or with lunar phase. Temporal patterns of abundance of larval fish families clustered into distinct groups that in several cases paralleled family life-history patterns. In late July, a sharp shift in larval assemblages signaled the replacement of oceanic water with inner shelf/bay water. In general, the suite and relative abundance of taxa collected each night differed from those collected on other nights, and assemblages reflected distinct nightly events as opposed to constant or cyclical patterns. Proximity to the Florida Current likely contributes to the dynamic nature of these near-reef larval assemblages. Our results emphasize the uniqueness of near-reef larval fish assemblages and point to the need for further examination of the biophysical relationships generating event-related temporal patterns in these assemblages.

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