When Will Marine Reserves Fail? Integrating Habitat Quality, Configuration, and Animal Movement Into Marine Reserve Design

EPA Grant Number: U916244
Title: When Will Marine Reserves Fail? Integrating Habitat Quality, Configuration, and Animal Movement Into Marine Reserve Design
Investigators: Semmens, Brice X.
Institution: University of Washington
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: January 1, 2003 through January 1, 2006
Project Amount: $101,483
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2003) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Oceanography and Coastal Processes , Aquatic Ecosystems


Understanding the behaviors and associated spatial distributions of fish is central to the management and preservation of coral reef species and communities. Differences in the manner in which fish use space influence the effectiveness of a diversity of management endeavors, including reserve design and density assessments. The objectives of this research project are to: (1) quantitatively describe the movement of reef fish as a function of habitat and incorporate this information into an individual-based model of reef fish for the purposes of evaluating existing and proposed reserves; and (2) quantify the influence of diver presence on fish behavior, and include this information in an assessment of bias in common reef fish survey techniques.


For most reef fish, the availability and distribution of resources (e.g., food, spawning habitat, and refuge) is a function of local benthic habitat. Because reefs are heterogeneous and resource distribution differs between habitats, I expect that the movement of fish also will differ between habitats. Additionally, because taxonomic or functional groups require different sets of resources, I anticipate that movement patterns will vary between these groups. Habitat degradation in coral reefs typically results in reduced physical structure, species diversity, and productivity. Thus, habitat degradation will alter the distribution and amount of resources available, and this will alter the patterns of reef fish movement. However, predicting how fish will respond to degraded habitat is, at present, difficult. Does territory size increase to encompass sparse high quality habitat patches, or does territory size decrease because degraded habitat patches represent a barrier to movement? The answer will depend both on the type of fish and the spatial arrangement of degraded and nondegraded habitat. The results of my research will allow resource managers to explicitly define the influence of habitat-mediated behavior on assessment and preservation efforts.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, habitat quality, marine reserves, coral reef species, coral reef communities, reef fish, habitat degradation, reef fish movement.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2003
  • 2004
  • Final