Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Biological Sciences

Committee Director

Kent E. Carpenter (Advisor)

Committee Member

Beth Polidoro

Committee Member

Holly Gaff


Understanding the status of species is important for allocation of resources to redress biodiversity loss. Regional organizations tasked with managing threats to the 1,360 marine bony shorefishes of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico would benefit from a delineation of conservation priorities. However, prior to this study, conservation status was known for only one quarter of these shorefishes. Extinction risk assessment under IUCN Red List Criteria is a widely-used, objective method to communicate species-specific conservation needs. Data were collated on each species’ distribution, population, habitats and threats and experts at three Red List workshops assigned a global level extinction risk category to nearly 1,000 greater Caribbean shorefishes. Since conservation is mostly implemented at a sub-global level, regional Red List assessments for the 940 shorefishes that occur in the Gulf of Mexico were conducted at two additional workshops. As a result, between 4-5% of these shorefishes are globally or regionally listed at a threatened level and 8-9% are Data Deficient. If all DD species are assumed threatened, the total threatened could be as high as 12% and 13%, respectively. The major threats are identified as overexploitation, habitat degradation (especially estuaries and coral reef) and invasive lionfish predation and half of the threatened or Near Threatened species are impacted by multiple threats. Data Deficient species are commonly known from only few records or when impact from a threat is suspected, but poorly understood. Species richness analyses using distribution maps vetted during the Red List process indicate that hotspots of limited range endemics, which are species that may be more susceptible to extinction, are located in Venezuela, Belize and the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Nearly a quarter of the Gulf endemics are threatened. The regional threat level for Gulf non-endemics is slightly lower than the global threat level. Immediate conservation needs are as follows: improve fishery management, reduce habitat degradation, control lionfish density, implement multiple threat scenario conservation planning and conduct diversity surveys in lesser explored areas. These baseline extinction risk assessments will provide an opportunity to measure conservation progress over time as well as inform future analyses of Key Biodiversity Areas.


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