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Describing community structure of reef fish within seagrass, mangrove and reef habitats: using ecological data to evaluate management effectiveness of Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve

Supervisors: Jennifer Chapman (Belize), Frances Humber / Charlotte Gough (UK)
Location: field (Belize)
Duration: 3 months in Belize for data collection and preliminary analysis, additional desk time at any location for project write-up.

Many reef fish utilise different areas and/or habitat types at different stages of development. Whilst some species are wholly dependent upon specific inter-habitat  connectivity, others are more flexible in their requirements.

The primary aim of this study is to quantitatively describe the structure of reef fish communities in the mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs of Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve. Such information can then be used to describe the value of each habitat type to chosen species, hypothesise pathways for ontogenetic migrations, and/or hypothesise the extent of inter-habitat connectivity.

The results of this study will feed into two broader objectives:
  1. Evaluating the effectiveness of Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve with regards to maintaining ecological health and commercial fish stock sustainability
  2. Promoting the recovery of key herbivorous fish populations, which play a role in preventing or reversing phase-shift change to fleshy macroalgal dominance.


Relevant existing data:
Reef fish recruitment abundance, MBRS priority fish species abundance and biomass on forereef and backreef sites (collected by expeditions)

Additional data needs:
Reef fish abundance and biomass data for mangroves and seagrass beds. Depending on method chosen, may require resampling of reef areas to ensure data is comparable between habitats.

Researcher requirements:
Caribbean reef fish identification skills, AOW diver qualification (these could be attained by joining the first three weeks of a Blue Ventures Belize expedition and undergoing training alongside volunteers)

Fieldwork requirements:
Under the guidance of Blue Ventures scientists, carry out surveys at chosen representative sites (±6 weeks of data collection).
It is recommended to allocate 10-12 weeks in Belize, with time spent between Sarteneja and Bacalar Chico, allowing for identification / survey method training, interruptions to data collection due to weather, adequate project planning with BV science team and to integrate properly into expedition time-table.

Independent research projects (2013-2014) - Madagascar

Independent research projects (2013-2014) - Belize