Dissertation Defense: Distribution modeling of mesophotic scleractinians and algae to further ecological understanding and resource management of Hawaiian coral reefs
Hawaiian photic reef ecosystems, found from the surface to 30 m depth, are imperiled by anthropogenic stressors such as climate change, overfishing, introduction of invasive species, and sedimentation from coastal construction. Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) found from 30 to 180 m may be buffered from these stressors by their deeper depth range. However, their vulnerability is not well known because minimal data exist on their location and community structure around the main islands. Consequently, I developed multiple, spatially explicit models to predict the distribution of important MCE members, which included scleractinians of the genera Montipora and Leptoseris, and the calcified alga Halimeda kanaloana. Similar models were also created for the invasive alga Avrainvillea amadelpha to better understand its potential impact on Hawaiian MCEs. Using the results of my models, I created maps across the main Hawaiian Islands, identifying the most suitable habitat for (i.e., the most probable location for colonization by) these species of interest. These are the first pan-Hawaiʻi predictive distribution maps for corals and algae within the mesophotic zone, which will hopefully serve as a valuable source of information to resource managers, scientists, and stakeholders in future marine spatial planning efforts.