Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 164, Issue 1–4, pp 513–531 | Cite as

Biological community structure on patch reefs in Biscayne National Park, FL, USA

  • Ilsa B. KuffnerEmail author
  • Rikki Grober-Dunsmore
  • John C. Brock
  • T. Don Hickey
Open Access


Coral reef ecosystem management benefits from continual quantitative assessment of the resources being managed, plus assessment of factors that affect distribution patterns of organisms in the ecosystem. In this study, we investigate the relationships among physical, benthic, and fish variables in an effort to help explain the distribution patterns of organisms on patch reefs within Biscayne National Park, FL, USA. We visited a total of 196 randomly selected sampling stations on 12 shallow (<10 m) patch reefs and measured physical variables (e.g., substratum rugosity, substratum type) and benthic and fish community variables. We also incorporated data on substratum rugosity collected remotely via airborne laser surveying (Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar—EAARL). Across all stations, only weak relationships were found between physical, benthic cover, and fish assemblage variables. Much of the variance was attributable to a “reef effect,” meaning that community structure and organism abundances were more variable at stations among reefs than within reefs. However, when the reef effect was accounted for and removed statistically, patterns were detected. Within reefs, juvenile scarids were most abundant at stations with high coverage of the fleshy macroalgae Dictyota spp., and the calcified alga Halimeda tuna was most abundant at stations with low EAARL rugosity. Explanations for the overwhelming importance of “reef” in explaining variance in our dataset could include the stochastic arrangement of organisms on patch reefs related to variable larval recruitment in space and time and/or strong historical effects due to patchy disturbances (e.g., hurricanes, fishing), as well as legacy effects of prior residents (“priority” effects).


Benthic community structure Marine protected areas Overfishing Rugosity 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ilsa B. Kuffner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rikki Grober-Dunsmore
    • 2
  • John C. Brock
    • 3
  • T. Don Hickey
    • 1
  1. 1.US Geological SurveySt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Applied SciencesUniversity of the South PacificSuvaFiji
  3. 3.US Geological Survey National CenterRestonUSA

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