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Mapping Reef Fish and the Seascape: Using Acoustics and Spatial Modeling to Guide Coastal Management

TitleMapping Reef Fish and the Seascape: Using Acoustics and Spatial Modeling to Guide Coastal Management
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsCosta, B, J. Taylor, C, Kracker, L, Battista, T, Pittman, S
KeywordsGIS and oceanography, rugosity, seafloor mapping, acoustics, coral reefs, fish biology, forecasting, habitats, benthic habitat, marine finsh, spatial and landscape ecology, spatial distribution

Reef fish distributions are patchy in time and space with some coral reef habitats supporting higher densities (i.e., aggregations) of fish than others. Identifying and quantifying fish aggregations (particularly during spawning events) are often top priorities for coastal managers. However, the rapid mapping of these aggregations using conventional survey methods (e.g., non-technical SCUBA diving and remotely operated cameras) are limited by depth, visibility and time. Acoustic sensors (i.e., splitbeam and multibeam echosounders) are not constrained by these same limitations, and were used to concurrently map and quantify the location, density and size of reef fish along with seafloor structure in two, separate locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Reef fish aggregations were documented along the shelf edge, an ecologically important ecotone in the region. Fish were grouped into three classes according to body size, and relationships with the benthic seascape were modeled in one area using Boosted Regression Trees. These models were validated in a second area to test their predictive performance in locations where fish have not been mapped. Models predicting the density of large fish (≥29 cm) performed well (i.e., AUC = 0.77). Water depth and standard deviation of depth were the most influential predictors at two spatial scales (100 and 300 m). Models of small (≤11 cm) and medium (12–28 cm) fish performed poorly (i.e., AUC = 0.49 to 0.68) due to the high prevalence (45–79%) of smaller fish in both locations, and the unequal prevalence of smaller fish in the training and validation areas. Integrating acoustic sensors with spatial modeling offers a new and reliable approach to rapidly identify fish aggregations and to predict the density large fish in un-surveyed locations. This integrative approach will help coastal managers to prioritize sites, and focus their limited resources on areas that may be of higher conservation value.

Alternate JournalPLoS ONE