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Community Structure and Feeding Ecology of Fishes on Artificial Reefs in the Northwest Gulf of Mexico
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Artificial reefs serve as important habitat for several marine fish species in the northwest Gulf of Mexico (NW GoM). Structure type, relief, and depth of artificial reefs have been shown to affect the community composition and trophic relationships of reef associated fishes. The purpose of this study is to investigate these relationships using a variety of metrics examining both fish assemblage and trophic ecology on several nearshore artificial reefs in the northwest Gulf of Mexico. Chapter I uses a suite of traditional fisheries methods to observe the effects of individual structure on the assemblage of marine fish. We investigated three individual reef types (concrete, rig, and ship) using three survey methods (fish trap, vertical longline, and active acoustics) over four years of sampling (2014 -2017). Two reef types, rig and ship, were found to have a more diverse assemblage of fish than concrete reefs using traditional fishing methods (vertical longline and fish trap); however, concrete reefs were found to have higher concentrations of fish using active acoustics. These results indicate that increased reef relief and complexity offer habitat for a wider range of species, while low relief habitats attract less diverse assemblages of fish in higher concentrations. The differences in trophic structure were also investigated on high and low relief structure types in Chapter II. Using both stable isotope and fatty acid analyses we examined the feeding ecology of three reef associated fishes, tomtate (Haemulon aurolineatum), pigfish (Orthopristis chrysoptera), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus). The three species were compared on high relief habitats, while one species, red snapper, was also investigated on low relief habitats. The three species exhibited different feeding strategies using stable isotope values and fatty acid ratios that reflected known diets from other regions. Red snapper feeding ecology was different between the two structure types. Red snapper that were collected on low relief habitats fed on a higher trophic level than those collected on high relief habitat types. This difference among the structure types may be due to the lack of intraguild competition that may occur on more diverse high relief reefs relative to less diverse low relief reefs. Overall results suggest that artificial reef structure type and design may support unique assemblages and provide different functions to reef associated species.
Plumlee, Jeffrey David (2018). Community Structure and Feeding Ecology of Fishes on Artificial Reefs in the Northwest Gulf of Mexico. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from