HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

Second Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

David W. Kerstetter

Second Advisor

Joseph E. Serafy

Third Advisor

John F. Walter III

Fourth Advisor

Tracey T. Sutton


This study examined the effects of the January 2010 cold spell on mangrove utilizing coral reef fishes off the southeast coast of Florida, USA, in the vicinity of Biscayne National Park (BNP). An ongoing, fishery-independent mangrove visual survey documenting fish assemblages in BNP provided data from the years 1998 to 2014 for examination. Of particular interest were the presence, abundance, and size structure for five mangrove utilizing coral reef fishes: sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilis), yellowfin mojarra (Gerres cinereus), schoolmaster snapper (Lutjanus apodus), gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus), and great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). These species were selected for analysis due to their economic and ecologic importance, their potential as environmental indicators, their connectedness to multiple habitats, and their abundance within the available data set. Data were collected using a modified visual ‘belt transect’ method, consisting of 60 m2 transects running parallel to the mangrove shorelines. Data for average length of fish were reconstructed to form standard normal distributions and the resulting lengths were assigned to various age-classes to create species-specific length-frequency distributions. Variations in presence and abundance were examined across three time periods (1998-2009; 2010-2011; 2012-2014), as well as comparisons of length-frequency distributions. Following the January 2010 cold spell, the presence and abundance values for the two years immediately following the event were significantly decreased compared to the years prior to the cold spell for most of the five species at either mainland (ML) or leeward key (LK) locations. Additionally, the presence and abundance estimates typically remained statistically decreased when compared against the remaining years in the available data set. The size structures for the majority of the five species at either location, however, were not consistently significantly different between the three time periods, as was hypothesized. Instead, the analyses showed mixed results, with the size structure typically shifting towards smaller individuals immediately following the event. These findings suggest that drops in water temperature resulting from cold spells are capable of directly impacting mangrove utilizing reef fish species, albeit to varying degrees depending on various factors, such as physiological tolerances, ecological life history strategies, and habitat requirements.



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