Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Marine Biology and Fisheries (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Jerald S. Ault

Second Committee Member

Peter W. Glynn

Third Committee Member

Carol C. Horvitz

Fourth Committee Member

Rolf P. M. Bak

Fifth Committee Member

Steven G. Smith


Coral reef degradation has been observed worldwide over the past few decades resulting in significant decreases in coral cover and abundance. However, there has not been a clear framework established to address the crucial need for more sophisticated understanding of the fundamental ecology of corals and their response to environmental stressors. Development of a quantitative approach to coral population ecology that utilizes formal, well established principles of fishery systems science offers a new framework to address these issues. The goal of this dissertation is to establish a quantitative foundation for assessment of coral reefs by developing some essential ecological and population-dynamic components of a size-structured demographic model for coral populations of the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem. The objective provides the potential to build a quantitative systems science framework for coral populations. A two-stage stratified random sampling design was implemented during two separate survey periods to assess coral populations. Results include precise estimates of adult (> 4 cm) population abundance for several coral species by spatially partitioning abundance and variance into species-relevant reef habitat types. Adult size structure and juvenile abundance were used to evaluate individual coral populations and infer spatial variation in recruitment, growth and survival across habitat types. Partial mortality was characterized in terms of surface area, prevalence, and size-relationships. The development of some ecological and population-dynamic components of a size-structured demographic model for coral populations demonstrates the statistical framework and metrics required for monitoring and assessment of coral reef ecosystems to meet the pressing needs of conservation of coral reef ecosystems specifically in Florida, and throughout the Caribbean and Pacific in general.


Coral reefs; coral populations; demography; Florida Keys