Fine-scale behavior of coral reef fishes in a small Floridian marine reserve

Jessica Watson, California State University, Monterey Bay

Thesis (M.S.) Division of Science and Environmental Policy


Foraging is a fundamental ecological process. Foraging patterns are not only related to the spatial distribution of prey, but are also important in understanding which habitats are utilized in the acquisition of prey. In the present study, we provide context to previous telemetric work by exploring the inter- and intra-specific differences in foraging behavior and habitat utilization of three representative species from different feeding guilds in a small marine reserve at Conch Reef. Field work was conducted during a saturation mission to the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory in November of 2008. The results of this study clearly depict inter- and intra-specifc variation of fine-scale foraging behaviors and habitat utilization for these three species of coral reef fishes. New insights into the foraging behavior were observed for hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus), which were observed to winnow primarily over sand and continous reef habitats, and and for blue parrotfish (Scarus coer uleus) which were observed to bite primarily over sand and continuous reef habitats. Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci) as expected were found to be the only species to display ram/suction feeding. Given the increasingly wide application of small marine reserves world wide, including the reserve in which the study was conducted, enhanced understanding of fine-scale foraging behaviors of fishes targeted for protection by reserves will be needed to improve spatial management efforts. Though this study only provides information for adults of these species at Conch Reef, it still provides details on the landscape features that these three species utilize while foraging. Since foraging is a basic ecological process that directly influences movement patterns, the relative proportions of these foraging habitats should be included by managers when evaluating and establishing new marine reserves dedicated to protecting this species within the Florida Keys Reef Tract.