The influence of habitat preference on longitudinal population composition and distribution of Groupers (Serranidae) in Chumbe Island Coral Park, Zanzibar, Tanzania

  • Caroline Daley Middlebury College
Keywords: marine protected areas, habitat preference, phase shift, groupers, Chumbe Island, Western Indian Ocean


A survey of six common grouper (Serranidae) species was conducted on both the western protected and eastern unprotected reefs around Chumbe Island, Zanzibar. Species, estimated maturity, and habitat were recorded using standardized categories. Fundamental niche and general habitat preference were extrapolated based on observed realized niche and qualified based on substrate, depth, slope position, and general reef region. Taking habitat preference into account, abundance and biomass density of serranid populations were compared between locations on the reef in order to best account for how habitat influences distribution and population health. The results of this study provide depth to previous research on the protected reef and indicate noteworthy shifts in population composition between 2014 and 2018 that favour species with less specified habitat preference, such as Aethaloperca rogaa and Cephalopholis argus. Surveys of Chumbe’s nearby unprotected eastern reef indicate low levels of species abundance, which this study hypothesizes is the result of inappropriate habitat structure, increased fishing pressure, and decreased population health within the MPA. Ultimately, this study suggests that MPAs do not protect all species equally, and habitat preference must be taken into account when assessing MPA effectiveness at protecting different species. Indeed, especially as serranid habitat faces continued degradation, serranid conservation will depend even more on protection of each species’ preferred habitat in coral systems. As such, assessing serranid populations as a whole fails to capture the changes in population distribution and composition that is occurring between species, which may be more indicative of shifts and disturbances in the ecosystem.