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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 129:119-125 (1995)  -  doi:10.3354/meps129119

Cascading disturbances in Florida Bay, USA: cyanobacteria blooms, sponge mortality, and implications for juvenile spiny lobsters Panulirus argus

Butler MJ IV, Hunt JH, Herrnkind WF, Childress MJ, Bertelsen R, Sharp W, Matthews T, Field JM, Marshall HG

Florida Bay, the shallow lagoon separating mainland Florida and the Florida Keys, USA, is experiencing an unprecedented series of ecological disturbances. In 1991, following reports of other ecosystem perturbations, we observed widespread and persistent blooms of cyanobacteria that coincided with the decimation of sponge communities over hundreds of square kilometers. Juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters Panulirus argus, among other animals, rely on sponges for shelter; the impact of sponge loss on the abundance of lobsters and their use of shelter, in particular, has been dramatic. The loss of sponges on 27 experimental sites in hard bottom habitat in central Florida Bay resulted in the redistribution of juvenile lobsters among the remaining shelters, an influx of lobsters into sites where artificial shelters were present, and a decline in lobster abundances on sites without artificial shelters. Diver surveys of sponge damage at additional sites in central Florida Bay confirmed that the sponge die-off was widespread and its occurrence coincided with areas that had been exposed to the cyanobacteria bloom. This cascade of disturbances has dramatically altered the community structure of affected hard bottom areas and demonstrates the coupled dynamics of this shallow marine ecosystem.

Florida Bay . Sponge . Spiny lobster . Disturbance . Cyanobacteria . Artificial shelters . Algal bloom

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