Research overview

The following sections provide an overview of some of TFEL's current and future research interests in the ecology and conservation of coral-reef fishes. By providing new insights into the ecology of reef fishes, we aim to provide a greater understanding of the impacts of environmental change and assist the effective design of conservation initiatives such as marine reserves. This research agenda was established and continues in the Caribbean, but also extends to the Pacific.

Effects of environmental change on reef fishes

  • Examining the importance of complexity to reef fishes, and how global climate change and other stressors will affect fishes' ecology, behavior, physiology, functioning, food webs, and management by reducing this complexity

  • Understanding how predators affect their prey through non-consumptive effects, such as decreasing their foraging rate or causing them to school more frequently

  • Investigating new and potential invasive species in the western Atlantic, including their effect on native species and drivers of aquarium releases

  • Studying how the increasing abundance of invasive lionfish will affect native species

Modelling and mapping fishing pressure and fish stocks

(c) Mark Priest
  • Modelling and mapping fishing pressure and standing stocks across five jurisdictions in Micronesia, to understand the factors driving these variables and to assist conservation planning

  • Extending the modelling and mapping approach to provide important conservation resources for The Bahamas and Florida Keys

  • Using these models to examine how changing sea surface temperatures associated with global climate change will affect the size and distribution of reef fishes, and how this will affect catches and management initiatives.

Ecology of fish on Pacific reef flats

  • Constructing food web models of reef-flat trophic dynamics to understand how they vary with tidal state, and the potential impacts of sea-level rise

  • A functional trait-based approach (including physiology) to provide a generic understanding of the ecology and distribution of fishes in shallow water, and the implications of climate change.

  • Acoustic tracking of the spangled emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus) to understand reef flat foraging and predict the impacts of climate change

  • How herbivory, invertivory, and piscivory vary across tidal cycles

  • Extending to analogous shallow-water Caribbean habitats

Mangrove, seagrass, and patch reef habitats

  • Understanding the key characteristics that make some Caribbean mangroves and patch reefs key nursery habitats, and target important areas for conservation

  • Examining the impacts of nursery-driven population enrichment on the rest of the fish assemblage (e.g. increased competition and predation)

  • Exposure-driven links between oceanic and demographic connectivity

  • Quantifying the importance of nursery habitat availability compared to larval supply, habitat quality, and the abundance of predators and competitors

  • Examining how risk from predators affects the foraging of herbivores on patch reefs, the creation of grazed 'halos, and carbon dequestration in halos

Marine reserves

  • Studying how marine reserves can alter ecological processes and affect trophic cascades

  • Using marine reserves and other management tools to protect reefs of the future that many function differently because of low coral cover and complexity

  • Designing marine reserve networks for future changes of reef condition and larval connectivity

© 2016 by A. Harborne.
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Florida International University,

Biscayne Bay Campus, 3000 NE 151 Street,

North Miami, Florida 33181, USA

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