HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Environmental Sciences


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Samuel Purkis

Second Advisor

Bernhard Riegl

Third Advisor

Erich Hochberg


A growing number of scientists are investigating applications of landscape ecology principles to marine studies, yet few coral reef scientists have examined spatial patterns across entire reefscapes with a holistic ecosystem-based view. This study was an effort to better understand reefscape ecology by quantitatively assessing spatial structures and habitat arrangements using remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS).

Quantifying recurring patterns in reef systems has implications for improving the efficiency of mapping efforts and lowering costs associated with collecting field data and acquiring satellite imagery. If a representative example of a reef is mapped with high accuracy, the data derived from habitat configurations could be extrapolated over a larger region to aid management decisions and focus conservation efforts.

The aim of this project was to measure repeating spatial patterns at multiple scales (10s m2 to 10s km2) and to explain the environmental mechanisms which have formed the observed patterns. Because power laws have been recognized in size-frequency distributions of reef habitat patches, this study further investigated whether the property exists for expansive reefs with diverse geologic histories.

Intra- and inter-reef patch relationships were studied at three sites: Andavadoaka (Madagascar), Vieques (Puerto Rico), and Saipan (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). In situ ecological information, including benthic species composition and abundance, as well as substrate type, was collected with georeferenced video transects. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) surveys were assembled into digital elevation models (DEMs), while vessel-based acoustic surveys were utilized to empirically tune bathymetry models where LiDAR data were unavailable. A GIS for each site was compiled by overlying groundtruth data, classifications, DEMs, and satellite images. Benthic cover classes were then digitized and analyzed based on a suite of metrics (e.g. patch complexity, principle axes ratio, and neighborhood transitions).

Results from metric analyses were extremely comparable between sites suggesting that spatial prediction of habitat arrangements is very plausible. Further implications discussed include developing an automated habitat mapping technique and improving conservation planning and delimitation of marine protected areas.

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