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Determining Methods of Underwater Visual Census for Estimating the Abundance of Coral Reef Fishes

Abstract

We aimed to determine optimal methods of underwater visual census (UVC) for estimating the abundance of coral reef fishes exploited by fisheries in the tropical Pacific. Two main methods were tested using SCUBA: strip transect and stationary point counts. We assessed their relative accuracy, precision, power and efficiency (cost), and compared different census area dimensions, observer swimming speeds, and number of replicates. Twenty-five comparisons of the two UVC methods were conducted for 73 species from five families of coral reef fishes, on reefs in Australia and Fiji. Species were grouped within families based on their mobility. Few significant differences were found, either among or between strip transects and stationary point counts. The data were characterised by high variability, low precision and low power. A trend for greater accuracy in density estimates of small sedentary species with smaller census area was apparent, which probably reflects searching efficiency. Only one species group, the sedentary Acanthuridae showed differences between transects and point counts. Higher, hence presumably more accurate, density estimates were obtained with 50 m×5 m transects. Notably, point counts could be deployed in ∼70% of the time of transects. A bootstrapping procedure demonstrated a consistent improvement in precision of density estimates with increasing number of replicates, but no appreciable change in precision was found beyond 10 to 15 replicates, in all species groups and for both transects and point counts. Consequently, and because of the high variability inherent in fish density estimates, we recommend that at least 10 replicates be used to quantify the species considered here. The power calculations showed that only large differences in density will be detected with the replication levels typical of UVC surveys. Power was greatest for the roving serranids, with a decrease in density of about 50% detectable for this species group. We discuss the importance of carefully defining the behavioural attributes of species prior to selecting a UVC method. A method of temporal stratification in a count is described for censusing a range of species of varying mobilities. We suggest that fish mobility and search efficiency are key factors in optimising UVC methods.

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Samoilys, M.A., Carlos, G. Determining Methods of Underwater Visual Census for Estimating the Abundance of Coral Reef Fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 57, 289–304 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1007679109359

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1007679109359

  • tropical reef fish
  • Pacific fisheries
  • population assessment