Date of Award

Spring 4-2-2015

Document Type

Distinction Paper

Degree Name

Sustainability Studies-BS


Sustainability Studies


Halard Lescinsky, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Halard Lescinsky, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Michael Hoggarth, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Meredith Meyer, Ph.D.


Acropora cervicornis, Stegastes planifrons, Threespot Damselfish, Damselfish, Acropora Reef, Effects of Damselfish

Subject Categories

Geology | Marine Biology


This study examines resurgent patches of Acropora cervicornis in the “Coral Gardens” back-reef area of Ambergris Caye, Belize. The goal of this study was to understand the carbonate budget and ecosystem dynamics of this successful reef, with an emphasis on the role of Stegastes planifrons (the herbivorous threespot damselfish), on the health of the coral. Benthic survey data from photo-quadrats along six transects were supplemented with counts of S. planifrons, their chimney scars, and sea urchin (Echinometra viridis) to assess their impact on the reef. The data indicate a positive correlation between the density of Stegastes planifrons and urchins suggesting that damselfish do not reduce the number of urchins in their territories as previously reported. Threespot damselfish therefore, have little positive impact on the carbonate budget via the removal of scraping urchins. Damselfish chimney scars were uncommon along the transects suggesting the damselfish do not inhibit coral growth in large healthy patches such as those examined in this study. Scars, however, were more common along the edges of the patch reefs suggesting that negative impacts of damselfish may be more significant in the more fragmented and isolated colonies that are now the norm in the Caribbean. Although S. planifrons is sometimes looked at as a keystone species on staghorn reefs, we found that their number varied significantly with the abundance of small refuges suggesting that structural complexity is a primary driver of damselfish abundance, and overall S. planifrons probably only has a minimal impact on the coral dynamics of staghorn coral reefs.