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Effects of habitat manipulation by red grouper, Epinephelus morio, on faunal communities associated with excavations in Florida Bay

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Organisms that either directly or indirectly modify the availability of resources can have profound effects on the structure and function of ecological communities. This holds true for organisms that enhance habitat complexity either as a function of their morphology or through mechanical activities, such as digging or burrowing. The net positive effects of engineers on local species diversity follows from activities that allow more species to live in modified habitats compared to unmodified ones. Here, we present the results of a multiyear observational study evaluating the effects of habitat modifications made by juvenile red grouper, Epinephelus morio (Valenciennes, 1828), on the fishes and motile macroinvertebrates associated with karst solution holes in Florida Bay, FL, USA. Because red grouper have multiple roles in these systems, acting as both habitat engineers and predators that consume a variety of benthic crustaceans and fishes, their influence on associated communities is complex. We found that the presence of red grouper resulted in deeper solution holes, increased abundance and richness of the associated fauna, especially among juvenile coral-reef fishes and motile invertebrates, and significant differences in the structure of faunal communities over time. These results suggest that red grouper shape unique communities, distinct from those of surrounding areas, and strongly influence the composition of communities associated with manipulated habitats.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Florida State University, Department of Biological Science, Tallahassee, Florida 32306, Present address: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701;, Email: [email protected] 2: Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, St. Teresa, Florida 32358

Publication date: October 1, 2017

This article was made available online on July 19, 2017 as a Fast Track article with title: "Effects of habitat manipulation by red grouper, Epinephelus morio, on faunal communities associated with excavations in Florida Bay".

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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