Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Environmental Sciences

Second Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

First Advisor

Dr. Kirk Kilfoyle

Second Advisor

Dr. Bernhard Riegl


The economy of south Florida relies, in part, on the recreation and tourism industries; both of which are integrally linked to Florida’s coastal ecosystems. These ecosystems provide tourists the opportunity to explore mangroves and the Everglades, enjoy local beaches, and experience the ocean with fishing charters, scuba diving adventures, and snorkeling. One of the major attractions for tourists is the Florida Reef Tract (FRT), which includes multiple coral reef and hardbottom habitats that extend from St. Lucie Inlet through the Florida Keys and into the Dry Tortugas. The FRT has been a major part of research because a wide range of anthropogenic factors, such as impaired water quality (sedimentation, turbidity, nutrient loading), overfishing, ship groundings and anchor damage, and coastal construction, are causing the overall health of it to degrade. Some recent fisheries-independent habitat-based monitoring studies have focused on collecting data to assess population size and size-class structure of commercially and recreationally important coral reef fish species, such as members of the grouper-snapper complex, throughout the FRT to help improve management decisions. In the process, data for all other members of the reef fish community, including some historically less-frequently studied or often overlooked species, has also been collected to be used to better understand their population status and life histories on the reefs of southeast Florida. One group of fishes that has not received much attention is the order Tetraodontiformes. This order is comprised of fishes that are characterized by having many unique attributes, including distinct anatomical features, defensive strategies, specialized swimming mechanisms, and behavioral tendencies. The purpose of this study was to conduct an in-depth evaluation of the most commonly occurring species from each of the families from the order Tetraodontiformes that are represented within the reef fish community of southeast Florida, along with a few other species of special interest. Tetraodontiformes were chosen because of the lack of research within the past few years, this study focused specifically on the geographical distribution, depth, and habitat associations of these species throughout the region. Nine species in total were selected from a large dataset that was previously collected in south Florida from 2012 to 2016. Each of the species was tested to see differences in benthic habitats, depth, and local coral reef ecoregions. Results showed that all these species had differences within the eleven benthic habitats used in analysis. A few species showed differences in mean density between shallow and deep habitats, and other species showed significant differences between the five ecoregions. Other studies have shown a general increase in reef fish density from north to south for the fish assemblage regions, and these results, in part, agree with that trend. This project was a small indication of where Tetraodontiformes are found in south Florida by habitats, depths, and ecoregions and could help with further management decisions that affect coral reef fish as well as the FRT.