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Marine Ecology and Conservation Research

at NKU

Dr. Charles A. Acosta
Associate Professor
Phone: 859-572-5300
Department of Biological Sciences
Northern Kentucky University
Highland Heights, KY 41099 USA

*    My research focuses on population and community ecology. My research projects often have theoretical underpinnings but mainly emphasize real-world applications for conservation in both marine and freshwater ecosystems. In the recent past, I have worked on marine larval recruitment dynamics with Dr. Mark Butler of Old Dominion University, one of the preeminent lobster biologist in the US. I have also worked on crayfish ecology in Everglades National Park with Dr. Sue Perry, US National Park Service. Over the past 9 years, I have collaborated closely with the International Marine Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) as a research associate on marine conservation issues in Belize, western Caribbean. From our base at the WCS Glover's Reef Marine Research Station in Belize, I have been studying fisheries ecology, biodiversity patterns on coral reefs, and the design and function of marine reserves as a conservation tool. These projects are summarized below. My current collaborators in these research initiatives are Dr. Denice Robertson (NKU CINSAM), Dr. Kevin Kirby (NKU Dept. of Computer Science), and Dr. Gail Mackin (NKU Dept. of Mathematics).


 * Efficacy of Marine Reserves as Harvest Refuges for Exploited Species

I have been studying the population dynamics of commercially-exploited species (spiny lobsters, queen conch, and fishes) in the Glover's Reef Marine Reserve off
the coast of Belize since 1996. I am particularly interested in the spatial ecology of these species and the dynamics of the refuge populations versus the adjacent fisheries. We have developed mathematical models of spatially-explicit dispersal dynamics and impacts on population fluctuation. NKU undergraduate students in biology have tagged and release target species in the reserve. This research is geared toward applying these models to produce quantitative predictions of habitat and species management strategies. 

Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus in coral habitat                                                                                                        Postlarval (left) and first-stage juvenile (right) spiny lobsters.



Acosta, C. A. 2006. Impending trade suspensions of Caribbean queen conch under CITES: A case study on fishery impacts and potential for stock recovery. Fisheries 31:601-606.
Acosta, C. A. and D. N. Robertson. 2003. Comparative spatial ecology of fished spiny lobsters Panulirus argus and an unfished congener P. guttatus in an isolated marine reserve at Glover's Reef atoll, Belize. Coral Reefs 22:1-9.
Acosta, C.A. 2002. Spatially explicit dispersal dynamics and equilibrium population sizes in marine harvest refuges.  ICES Journal of Marine Science 59:458-468.
Acosta, C. A. 2000. Assessment of the functional effects of a marine harvest refuge on spiny lobster and queen conch populations at Glover's Reef, Belize. Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 52:212-221.
Acosta, C. A. 1999. Benthic dispersal of Caribbean spiny lobsters among insular habitats: implications for the conservation of exploited marine species. Conservation Biology 13:603-612.

 * Biodiversity Inventory of the Glover's Reef Coral Atoll, Belize

We are conducting systematic species inventories of the marine fauna and flora of the Glover's Reef atoll, Belize. The Belize Barrier Reef  is the largest contiguous coral reef ecosystem in the western Atlantic. Three atolls (Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Atoll, and Glover's Reef) lie off the coast of Belize and a fourth lies off the Yucatan coast (Banco Chincorro). Glover's Reef is an isolated and relatively pristine coral atoll 45 km off the coast of Belize. It is surrounded by deep water - 400 to 2000 m depth less than 2 km from the reef crest! The coral formations on the forereef slope are among the most massive and diverse found anywhere in the Caribbean. The reef crest breaks the surface, almost totally enclosing a shallow lagoon except for a few small breaks. The lagoon is dotted with more than 700 shallow patch reefs surrounded by seagrass or sand-rubble substrate. We use standardized survey methodologies (underwater video, belt transects, line transects, percent cover) to record the abundance and distribution of benthic assemblages (corals, sponges, macroalgae) and resident fishes. NKU undergraduate students in the biological sciences have conducted extensive surveys and have analyzed much of the data.  




The coral reef system off Belize is visible in the LandSat photo (left) of the Yucatan Peninsula.


Acosta, C. A. and D. N. Robertson. 2002. Diversity in coral reef fish communities: the effects of habitat patchiness revisited.   Marine Ecology Progress Series 227:87-96.

Age and Growth Determination of Coral Reef Fishes Using Otolith Metrics

We have developed a protocol modified from standard methods for processing and analyzing fish otoliths. We have collected otoliths of lutjanid snappers, serranid groupers, and hogfish wrasses from an on-going fishery monitoring project at Glover's Reef, Belize. We are using both light and scanning electron microscopy to document otolith growth patterns, and we are testing a new electron dispersive x-ray analyzer for utility in determining microchemistry signals. Seed funding for this project was provided by the NSF Kentucky EPSCoR, by the Southeast Regional Fly Fisher's Association, and by NKU. The photos below show light and scanning electron micrographs of hogfish otoliths.

* Other Publications

(Click on the links for PDF copies)

Acosta, C. A. 2003. The house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata; Chilopoda): Controversy and contradiction. Journal of the Kentucky Academy of Science 64:1-5. 

Acosta, C. A. and S. A. Perry. 2002. Spatially-explicit population responses of crayfish Procambarus alleni to potential
        shifts in vegetation distribution in the marl marshes of Everglades National Park, USA
. Hydrobiologia 477:221-230

Acosta, C. A. and S. A. Perry. 2002. Spatio-temporal variation in crayfish production in disturbed marl prairie marshes of the
        Florida Everglades.
Journal of Freshwater Ecology 17:641-650.

Acosta, C. A. and S. A. Perry. 2001. Impact of hydropattern disturbance on crayfish population dynamics in the seasonal
        wetlands of Everglades National Park, USA
. Aquatic Conservation: Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems 11:45-57.

Acosta, C. A. 2000. International conservation education. Conservation Biology 14:492.

Acosta, C. A. and S. A. Perry. 2000. Differential growth of crayfish Procambarus alleni in relation to hydrological conditions
        in marl prairie wetlands of Everglades National Park, USA.
Aquatic Ecology 34:389-395.

Acosta, C. A. and S. A. Perry. 2000. Effective sampling area: a quantitative method for sampling crayfish populations in
        freshwater marshes.
Crustaceana 73:425-431.

Acosta, C. A. and M. J. Butler IV. 1999. Adaptive strategies that reduce predation on Caribbean spiny lobster postlarvae
        during onshore transport.
Limnology & Oceanography 44:494-501.

Acosta, C. A., T. R. Matthews, and M. J. Butler IV. 1997. Temporal patterns and transport processes in recruitment of spiny
        lobster Panulirus argus postlarvae to south Florida.
Marine Biology 129:79-85.

Acosta, C. A. and M. J. Butler IV. 1997. The role of mangrove habitat as a nursery for juvenile Caribbean spiny lobster
        Panulirus argus in Belize.
Marine & Freshwater Research 48:721-729.

Acosta, C. A. and M. A. Poirrier. 1992. Grooming behavior and associated structures of the mysid Mysidopsis bahia.
        Journal of Crustacean Biology 12:383-391.

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