Putting it to Work: New Publication Updating Fishes of Alligator Reef in the Florida Keys

Tessellated Blenny, Hypsoblennius invemar, one of the 41 species added to the species inventory of Alligator Reef as part of the publication. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
Allison Estapé, one of the paper's co-authors surveying in the Florida Keys. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
Spotfin Jawfish, Opistognathus robins, one of the 41 species added to the species inventory of Alligator Reef as part of the publication. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
Carlos and Allison Estapé, active REEF volunteers and co-authors on a new paper on the Fishes of Alligator Reef.

We are excited to share a new publication recently co-authored by active REEF volunteers, Carlos and Allison Estapé. Carlos and Allison are members of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team and were honored as REEF's Volunteers of the Year in 2013. In that same year, Carlos and Allison became aware of an extensive historical study that had been conducted documenting the fishes of Alligator Reef, which happened to be their "home" reef. From 1958-67, Walter A. Starck II conducted marine biological studies and fish collection efforts in the area of Alligator Reef, off of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. In 1968, he published A List of Fishes of Alligator Reef.

After reading Stark's study, Carlos and Allison undertook a four-year census of the fishes of the area with a goal to photo-document as many of their sightings as possible. This effort subsequently entailed 1,039 combined dives devoted to fish counts, photographic documentation, or both. During these surveys, they photographed 278 of the species reported by Starck (1968) plus 35 additional and/or newly described or reclassified species not recorded in the earlier study. During this time, Carlos and Allison started working with Dr. Stark to update the classic publication. The updated paper was published in Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation in August 2017.

An update of the checklist of fishes of Alligator Reef and environs some fifty years later provides an unparalleled opportunity to evaluate the species richness for a limited reef area, as well as a unique opportunity to explore changes in diversity over a half-century time scale. In the updated study, the authors added 107 species and subtracted 5 from the original total of 516 species: thus the checklist now totals 618 species, of 122 families, the most recorded for any similarly sized area in the New World. The additional species records are made up from a number of subsequent collections as well as from Carlos and Allison's sightings. Over the half-century since the original Alligator Reef survey, there have been great advances in the taxonomy of Greater Caribbean reef fishes, with numerous changes in scientific names and classification. These changes were addressed in the updated publication so as to bring the list to current status.

The authors used the REEF database for analysis and comparison including three photos from Ed Martin, also a REEF member. REEF maintains an online database of worldwide visual fish-count surveys conducted by volunteer researchers and fish-count enthusiasts. While such surveys can be biased towards easily observed species, they are indicative for a large portion of the reef fish fauna and comprise a valuable source of comparative information (Schmitt & Sullivan 1996, Pattengill-Semmens & Semmens 2003, Holt et al. 2013). The local REEF data includes that of the Estapés, who have conducted 185 roving-diver REEF surveys on Alligator Reef. An additional 1,807 surveys at 94 sites in the study area have also been conducted by other REEF volunteers (as of July, 3, 2016).

To view a link to the Stark and Estapé paper, as well as all other publications that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub