HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Brian Walker

Second Advisor

David Kerstetter

Third Advisor

Steven Smith


Understanding the biogeography of reef fish assemblages is paramount to reef conservation, management, and conducting appropriate population survey designs. Reef fish assemblages are a multispecies complex of reef-associated fish and are shaped by multiple environmental and biological factors (e.g. temperature, depth, benthic habitat, and topographic relief), which determine the species constituents residing in an area. Assemblages typically change with latitude where the number of families, genera, and/or densities of species specific to warmer climates decrease poleward into colder climate regimes. The Florida Reef Tract (FRT) extends for 595 km from the Dry Tortugas in the south-west to Martin County in the north, crossing a sub-tropical to temperate climate transition. This study investigates the biogeography of reef fish assemblages throughout the FRT to determine if they correspond to previous regional delineations that were primarily based on coastal geomorphology. Multivariate density analyses show that depth, habitat, relief, and region are major factors in determining the assemblages. Four main ecoregions were evident based on depth, benthic habitat, relief and latitudinal region: Dry Tortugas (DT), Florida Keys (FK), Southeast mainland (SE), and Bahamas Fracture Zone (BF). DT split into four biogeographic assemblage regions primarily based on depth, and relief. FK split into five biogeographic assemblage regions with a sixth extending through Broward County primarily based on depth, habitat type, and relief. SE split into four biogeographic assemblage regions primarily based on depth, and region. BF split into three biogeographic assemblage regions primarily based on depth, and region. These sixteen assemblages represent the current composition of reef fish based on four factors. Numerous other factors also affect reef fish assemblages (e.g. past and present fishing pressure, mangrove nursery habitat, and coral death) that were not part of the analysis but are discussed. The final reef fish assemblage regions were associated with previous benthic habitat maps in order to view their spatial extent. Having a map of current biogeographic reef fish assemblages serves as a baseline and allows more accurate management and monitoring of future reef fish populations.