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The fishery for the spiny lobster Panulirus argus in the area around Puerto Morelos is one of the least productive in the state of Quintana Roo (Mexican Caribbean coast). Density of postalgal juveniles of P. argus (i.e., juveniles ≥ 15 mm carapace length, CL) is low
in the shallow areas of the reef lagoon at Puerto Morelos despite high annual indices of puerulus influx into the lagoon as measured with artificial collectors. We hypothesized that a population bottleneck might exist at the algal juvenile phase (juveniles 6–15 mm CL, residing in vegetated
shallow areas), owing to a lack of suitable habitats for the settlement of incoming postlarvae and the subsequent survival of algal juveniles. At five sites within the reef lagoon, algal juveniles were collected with an epibenthic net during June 1995 (early summer) and March 1997 (late winter).
In March, we estimated, in the same five sites, the density of two species of seagrass and five functional-form groups of macroalgae, as well as the biomass of Lobophora variegata (ruffled form), a drift phaeophyte, which grows in extremely dense mats over a number of substrates. Significantly
more algal juveniles were obtained in March than in June but this temporal pattern was apparently not related to peaks in influx of postlarvae into the reef lagoon. The abundance and distribution of algal juveniles in March was not related to the density of seagrass or algae, but was significantly
related to the biomass of L. variegata. The ruffled form of L. variegata is very abundant in seagrass meadows throughout the Caribbean; hence, it may represent an important habitat for pueruli and algal juveniles of P. argus in other areas as well. Density of algal juveniles
in the reef lagoon was 146 ha−1 in June and 263 ha−1 in March. Considering a conservative average of 150 algal juveniles ha−1, and a residence of 2 mo in the algal habitats, the reef lagoon can harbor around 900 algal juveniles ha−1
in a year, a figure comparable to productive areas for lobster such as the Florida Keys, USA. Therefore, the lobster population bottleneck in Puerto Morelos does not occur at the algal-juvenile phase.
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