From a fish’s point of view, the Caribbean Sea is really three different regions
STRI/DICYT “Previously, the Greater Caribbean was considered to be one big homogenous region of the Tropical West Atlantic,” said Ross Roberson, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “According to our shorefish surveys, the Caribbean should really be considered to be three distinct provinces.”
Shorefishes in the Caribbean live on coral reefs, soft-bottom habitats such as estuaries and river mouths, and in mangroves. Robertson and STRI postdoctoral fellow Katie Cramer divided the tropical waters of the Atlantic continental shelf into 45 sections. They then mapped the distributions of 1,559 Caribbean shorefish species to compare the fish communities living in each section.
They gathered information about fish distributions from scientific publications and museum databases, and filled in the gaps by organizing collecting expeditions to Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, the Bahamas, Panama, Curaçao and sites along the northern coast of South America.
Based on differences in fish communities, Robertson and Cramer designated three distinct Caribbean zones: (1) the West Indies, Bermuda and Central America; (2) the continental shelf of northern South America; and (3) all of the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the southeastern U.S. They attributed fish community differences to contrasting sea temperatures, prevalence of major habitats, and the quantity of nutrient inputs from large rivers and upwelling currents.
“The Greater Caribbean region is one of four major centers of tropical marine biodiversity in the world, but its coastal marine habitats are among the world’s most threatened,” said Cramer. “Our zonation scheme shows that management and conservation efforts should be focused on two geographic scales – within each of the three larger provinces, and also within 12 smaller ecoregions that make up these provinces.
|Robertson, D. R. and Cramer, K.L. 2014. "Defining and dividing the greater Caribbean: insights from the biogeography of shorefishes". PLOS ONE 9(7):e102918|