Ecological Impacts of the 2005 Red Tide on Artificial Reef Epibenthic Macroinvertebrate and Fish Communities in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico
A harmful algal bloom (red tide) and associated anoxic/hypoxic event in 2005 resulted in massive fish kills and comparable mortality of epibenthic communities in depths less than 25 m along the central west Florida shelf. There is a robust body of information on the etiology of red tide and human health issues; however, there is virtually no quantitative information on the effects of red tide on epibenthic macroinvertebrate and demersal fish communities. Ongoing monitoring of recruitment and succession on artificial reef structures provided a focused time series (2005 to 2007) before and after the red-tide disturbance. Radical changes in community structures of artificial reefs were observed after the red tide. Scleractinian corals, poriferans, and echinoderms were among the epibenthos most affected. Fish species richness declined by greater than 50%, with significant reductions in the abundances of most species. Successional stages were monitored over the next 2 yr; stages tended to follow a predictable progression and revert to a pre-red tide state, corroborating previous predictions that the frequency of disturbance events in the shallow eastern Gulf of Mexico may limit the effective species pool of colonists. Substantial recovery of the benthos occurred in 2 yr, which was more rapid than predicted in previous studies.