Spatial Distribution of Reef Fish Species along the Southeast US Atlantic Coast Inferred from Underwater Video Survey Data
Marine fish abundance and distribution often varies across spatial scales for a variety of reasons, and this variability has significant ecological and management consequences. We quantified the distribution of reef-associated fish species along the southeast United States Atlantic coast using underwater video survey samples (N = 4,855 in 2011–2014) to elucidate variability within species across space, depths, and habitats, as well as describe broad-scale patterns in species richness. Thirty-two species were seen at least 10 times on video, and the most commonly observed species were red porgy (Pagrus pagrus; 41.4% of videos), gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus; 31.0%), black sea bass (Centropristis striata; 29.1%), vermilion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens; 27.7%), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus; 22.6%). Using generalized additive models, we found that most species were non-randomly distributed across space, depths, and habitats. Most rare species were observed along the continental shelf break, except for goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara), which was found on the continental shelf in Florida and Georgia. We also observed higher numbers of species in shelf-break habitats from southern North Carolina to Georgia, and fewer in shallower water and at the northern and southern ends of the southeast United States Atlantic coast. Our study provides the first broad-scale description of the spatial distribution of reef fish in the region to be based on fishery-independent data, reinforces the utility of underwater video to survey reef fish, and can help improve the management of reef fish in the SEUS, for example, by improving indices of abundance.