Refuge Spacing Similarly Affects Reef-Associated Species from Three Phyla
Four reef-refuging, off-reef foraging species were censused monthly for 1 year on three artificial reef plots in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Reef plots differed in spacing of otherwise equivalent prefabricated concrete reef units. The plot with widely spaced reef units (uniform
pattern, 60 m apart) consistently harbored more stone crabs (Menippe hybrids) and/or octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) than did plots with more aggregated reef units (i.e., a close uniform pattern, units 2 m apart, and a mixed pattern of clustered units, at least 60 m between clusters).
Stone crab numbers declined markedly and approached zero as octopus occupancy reached maximum levels (61 animals per plot), suggestive of species interaction. Black sea bass (Centropristis striata melana) and gray triggerfish (Batistes capriscus) exhibited occupancy patterns
qualitatively similar to stone crabs and octopuses. The widely spaced plot consislently harbored more sea bass (96–331 individuals) and triggerfish (2–39 individuals) than did the closely spaced plot (45–203 sea bass and 0–21 triggerfish per plot). Adult echinoderms
and mollusks larger than 2.25 cm were quantitatively sampled at 1, 10, 20 and 30 m from widely spaced and closely spaced reef units. Mean abundances of these potential prey species, as a group, increased significantly with distance from refuge at both sites. The rate of increase was qualitatively
greater for prey items around widely spaced reef units. Tagged stone crabs were resighted on widely spaced units more often than expected by chance (19% resightings vs. 6% on mixed and closely spaced reef plots). These results are consistent with our central hypothesis that widely spaced reef
units (at this site and on the scale of our comparisons) provide a more favorable resource for mobile off-reef foragers by virtue of increased access to soft-bottom prey.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 1994
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