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Coral Reef Mapping: From large-scale morphology to small-scale community patterns

Principal Investigator: Bernhard Riegl, Ph.D.


Acoustic ground discrimination data is displayed over expert-classified LADS bathymetryResponsible management of reef resources is greatly aided by detailed knowledge of the resource's extent and distribution in space. Thus, reef maps are an indispensable management tool. NCRI places strong emphasis on the development and application of the newest mapping technology in order to produce reef maps of increasing sophistication.

Efforts do not stop at mapping the spatial distribution of biota, but their land/seascape ecology is evaluated at the same time. Spatial statistics are employed to characterize the distribution of communities from large to increasingly small spatial scales.

Project and Findings

Mapping projects center around the application and integration of different data layers into coherent maps that aid in visualizing and explaining the spatial dynamics of organisms as they react to underlying geomorphology. Projects focus on application and further development of acoustic ground discrimination, which is a powerful tool for seabed mapping beyond optically accessible depths. Other projects use different bathymetric tools, such as as various sonars and LIDARs to develop classification schemes based on subsea topography. Another working group investigates in detail the spatial patterns of reefal organismal communities and their constituent species in response to reef morphology. The project investigates the various scales at which organisms of different size are organized in three-dimensional space.

Implications for Management

The better the understanding of a resource's spatial dimensions, the easier it will be inventoried and managed. By integrating community mapping with geomorphology mapping, NCRI provides maps that visualize both the spatial heterogeneity of the reef environment as well as the resultant community dynamics of its organisms, giving managers powerful information upon which to base decisions. NCRI has been asked to produce reef maps both locally in Florida and other U.S. territories in the Atlantic and Pacific, as well as overseas, where NCRI is active in training government departments in mapping technology and management applications. The NCRI Mapping activities are thus directly applicability to the goals of the USCRTF and SEFCRI/SEFAST.

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