HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

Second Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

First Advisor

Brian K. Walker, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Joana Figueiredo, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Sandra Brooke, Ph.D.


Several studies have found separation of biogeographic provinces on the West Florida Shelf (WFS), but the location of this separation differs depending on different organisms with faunal boundaries proposed at Apalachicola, Cedar Key, Anclote Key. Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Cape Romano, or Cape Sable. Biogeographic boundaries can be gradual over a given space and are often species-specific. Analyses of marine benthic mapping and community characterization of Florida’s West-central coast shallow water (depth) hardbottom habitats indicate a major shift in the benthos across Tampa Bay. Quantitative benthic surveys of 29 sites yielded a total of 4,079 individuals of nine stony coral species and 1,918 soft coral colonies. Populations were dominated by four species of corals: Siderastrea radians, Oculina robusta, Solenastrea hyades, and Cladacora arbuscula. Most corals were less than 10 cm in diameter. Cluster analyses of coral density and major functional group percent cover showed distinct differences in hard and soft coral densities and species demographics from south to north with clear spatial patterns between regions. These benthic hardbottom coral communities change over a relatively small spatial scale (10’s of km), indicating a biogeographical province or ecosystem region boundary in marine benthic communities at, or very near, the mouth of Tampa Bay. Broader studies are needed to identify the shifts in benthic community biogeography along the West Florida Shelf.