Does landscape context affect habitat value? The importance of seascape ecology in back-reef systems

Lauren Ann Yeager, Florida International University


Seascape ecology provides a useful framework from which to understand the processes governing spatial variability in ecological patterns. Seascape context, or the composition and pattern of habitat surrounding a focal patch, has the potential to impact resource availability, predator-prey interactions, and connectivity with other habitats. For my dissertation research, I combined a variety of approaches to examine how habitat quality for fishes is influenced by a diverse range of seascape factors in sub-tropical, back-reef ecosystems. In the first part of my dissertation, I examined how seascape context can affect reef fish communities on an experimental array of artificial reefs created in various seascape contexts in Abaco, Bahamas. I found that the amount of seagrass at large spatial scales was an important predictor of community assembly on these reefs. Additionally, seascape context had differing effects on various aspects of habitat quality for the most common reef species, White grunt Haemulon plumierii. The amount of seagrass at large spatial scales had positive effects on fish abundance and secondary production, but not on metrics of condition and growth. The second part of my dissertation focused on how foraging conditions for fish varied across a linear seascape gradient in the Loxahatchee River estuary in Florida, USA. Gray snapper, Lutjanus griseus, traded food quality for quantity along this estuarine gradient, maintaining similar growth rates and condition among sites. Additional work focused on identifying major energy flow pathways to two consumers in oyster-reef food webs in the Loxahatchee. Algal and microphytobenthos resource pools supported most of the production to these consumers, and body size for one of the consumers mediated food web linkages with surrounding mangrove habitats. All of these studies examined a different facet of the importance of seascape context in governing ecological processes occurring in focal habitats and underscore the role of connectivity among habitats in back-reef systems. The results suggest that management approaches consider the surrounding seascape when prioritizing areas for conservation or attempting to understand the impacts of seascape change on focal habitat patches. For this reason, spatially-based management approaches are recommended to most effectively manage back-reef systems.

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Recommended Citation

Yeager, Lauren Ann, "Does landscape context affect habitat value? The importance of seascape ecology in back-reef systems" (2013). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3567372.