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Climate-related, decadal-scale assemblage changes of seagrass-associated fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Authors

  • F. JOEL FODRIE,

    1. Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile AL 36688, USA,
    2. Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
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  • KENNETH L. HECK Jr,

    1. Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile AL 36688, USA,
    2. Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
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  • SEAN P. POWERS,

    1. Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile AL 36688, USA,
    2. Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
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  • WILLIAM M. GRAHAM,

    1. Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile AL 36688, USA,
    2. Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
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  • KELLY L. ROBINSON

    1. Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile AL 36688, USA,
    2. Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
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F. Joel Fodrie, Mobile AL 36688, tel. +251 861 7551, e-mail: jfodrie@disl.org

Abstract

Global temperatures are rising, and are expected to produce a poleward shift in the distribution of many organisms. We quantified changes in fish assemblages within seagrass meadows of the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) between the 1970s and 2006–2007, and observed changes consistent with this forecast. During 2006–2007 we sampled seagrass meadows using the same gears and methods previously employed by R. J. Livingston in coastal waters of northwest Florida throughout the 1970s. Comparisons between datasets revealed numerous additions to the fish fauna during 2006–2007 that were completely absent in the 1970s, including: Lutjanus synagris (lane snapper), Epinephelus morio (red grouper), Chaetodon ocellatus (spotfin butterflyfish), Mycteroperca sp (grouper, non gag), Centropristis philadelphica (rock sea bass), Fistularia tabacaria (bluespotted cornetfish), Ocyurus chrysurus (yellowtail snapper), Thalassoma bifasciatum (bluehead wrasse), Abudefduf saxatilis (sergeant major), Acanthuridae spp. (surgeonfishes) and Sparisoma viride (stoplight parrotfish). Several other species showed large increases in abundance during the interval between 1979 and 2006, including Mycteroperca microlepis (gag grouper, up ∼200 ×), Lutjanus griseus (gray snapper, up ∼105 ×), and Nicholsina usta (emerald parrotfish, up ∼22 ×). All of these are tropical or subtropical species that now make up a greater percentage of seagrass-associated fish assemblages in the northern GOM than in the past. Additionally, we observed regional increases in air and sea surface temperatures (> 3 °C) during the ∼30 years that separate Livingston's samples and ours that correlate with northern shifts in the distribution of warm-water fishes. Documenting these range shifts is a critical first step in investigating the consequences of global warming for endemic marine communities and fishery production in the northern GOM.

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