Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Robert Cowen

Second Committee Member

Joel Trexler

Third Committee Member

Donald DeAngelis

Fourth Committee Member

Joseph Serafy


The goal of this research was to determine the relative quality of near shore marine areas by investigating their influence on Haemulidae community structure, distribution pattern, condition, and growth. Habitat was defined at the small spatial scale of individual habitat types such as seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs, and at the broader spatial scale of the interconnection of these individual habitat types within a mosaic (IHM). Ten spatial, biotic and abiotic parameters (percentage coverage of sand, mangroves, hard substrate, and seagrass, turbidity, pH, salinity, temperature, average depth, and predator density) were investigated. These environmental characteristics acted as proxies for the quality of IHMs. The major findings of the research were: (1) IHMs and discrete habitat types in tropical marine systems are not always equal in quality. Further, the highest quality IHMs/discrete habitat types have the critical resources whether spatial, abiotic or biotic, at the optimum levels needed by organisms to carry out their critical life functions; (2) IHMs of the highest quality contain all the discrete habitat types needed by organisms to carry out their life processes in a spatial arrangement that maximizes energy savings; (3) IHMs can be of high quality in the absence of one habitat type, if this habitat type is replaced by another that can take on its ecological role; and (4) the percentage cover of hard substratum and seagrass, temperature, and predator density have a big impact on Haemulidae distribution pattern, community structure, condition and growth. In addition, this research highlighted some of many characteristics of benthic habitats such as type and configuration that should be included in the design of Marine Protected Areas for the effective management of fisheries resources. Effective Marine Protected Areas should have (1) large overall area with benthic habitat types of high quality; (2) spatial configurations with short distances (corridors) between habitat types; (3) spatial arrangements that place all individual habitat types in connection with all other habitat types so that energy expenditure in moving among habitat types is reduced; (4) habitats with high structural complexity; and (5) the inclusion of all the habitat types needed by focal organisms to carry out their life processes, or surrogate habitat types that can take on the role of ones that are absent.


Distribution Pattern; Haemulidae; Condition; Growth; Interconnected Habitat Mosaic; Habitat Quality; Community Structure