Diel Patterns of Patch Reef Community Dynamics in a Caribbean Back-Reef System Honors Thesis

honors thesis advisor

fiu authors

  • Zapata, Martha J.


  • Back-reef seascapes represent critical habitat for juvenile and adult fishes. Patch reef, seagrass, and mangrove habitats form a heterogeneous mosaic, often linked by species that use reefs as structure during the day and make foraging migrations into soft-bottom habitat at night. Artificial reefs are used to model natural patch reefs, however may not function equivalently as fish habitat. To study the relative value of natural and artificial patch reefs as fish habitat, these communities in the Sea of Abaco, Bahamas were compared using roving diver surveys and time-lapse photography. Diel turnover in fish abundance, recorded with time-lapse photography and illuminated by infrared light, was quantified across midday, dusk, and night periods to explore possible effects of reef type (artificial vs. natural) on these patterns. Diurnal communities on natural reefs exhibited greater fish abundance, species richness, and functional diversity compared to artificial reefs. Furthermore, both types of reef communities exhibited a significant shift across the diel period, characterized by a decline in total fish density at night, especially for grunts (Haemulidae). Cross-habitat foraging migrations by diurnal or nocturnal species, such as haemulids, are likely central drivers of this twilight turnover and can represent important energy and nutrient subsidies. Time-lapse surveys provided more consistent measures of reef fish assemblages for the smaller artificial reef habitats, yet underestimated abundance of certain taxa and species richness on larger patch habitats when compared to the roving diver surveys. Time-lapse photography complemented with infrared light represent a valuable non-invasive approach to studying behavior of focal species and their fine-scale temporal dynamics in shallow-reef communities.

publication date

  • April 30, 2013


  • Artifcial Reef
  • Bahamas
  • Day-night
  • Haemulidae
  • Time-lapse photography