Alternate Title

Assessment of Seagrass Floral Community Structure from Two Caribbean Marine Protected Areas

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Seagrass communities represent spatially complex and biomass producing systems comprised of intermixed seagrass and algal species. We investigated shallow water communities from two Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Caribbean: St. John, United States Virgin Islands and Cayos Cochinos, Honduras. St. John sites (4) lie within the Virgin Islands National Park and the Coral Reef National Monument and are designated within an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Honduran sites (4) lie within the designated Marine National Monument. Our results indicate that both MPAs were dominated by Thalassia testudinum with spatial coverage and shoot density significantly greater in Honduras. Many sites also showed substantial cover of Syringodium filiforme, which was significantly greater in St. John. Most major algal groups showed significant differences between MPAs and among sites within locations. Specifically, Halimeda, Penicillus, Udotea, Galaxaura, and Dictyosphaeria were significantly more abundant in Honduras, while Padina and Avrainvillea were significantly greater from St. John. Additionally, only Honduran sites showed the presence of coral colonies (Montastrea and Porites) within their seagrass beds. Floral community level analyses demonstrated significant differences among almost all site comparisons suggesting relatively distinct floral communities exist within each of these regions, but both MPAs maintain high spatial coverage of seagrasses providing critical ecosystem services.

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