EEB Ph.D. student, Katrina Munsterman, at their fish surgery station. White grunts were captured on artificial reefs and transported to the station to collect body condition data and implant acoustic transmitters. Photo credit: Jake Allgeier

Katrina Sky Munsterman, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Coastal Ecology and Conservation Lab led by Dr. Jake Allgeier, was recently awarded the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research from the American Philosophical Society. These doctoral student awards encourage exploratory field studies from a wide range of fields such as archaeology, anthropology, biology, ecology, and linguistics.

Munsterman’s research project is titled Exploring Optimal Foraging in a Common Reef Fish in The Bahamas. “My research aims to assess how individual foraging behavior can predict the body condition of an important Caribbean reef fishery. ‘Pan-fryers’ like snappers and grunts are a staple diet item for many people in the Caribbean. But the decline of fish stocks and increased demand from fisheries emphasize the need for effective management of coastal resources. Managing fish populations to assure sustainable yields requires predicting how organisms grow, reproduce, and die and how changes in their environment may alter these processes.”

The award was used to purchase fish acoustic transmitters to collect movement behavior data.  “This spring, we captured 45 white grunts (Haemulon plumierii) on artificial reefs in a Bahamian seagrass bed. Acoustic transmitters were implanted into fish and stationary receivers were installed to record high-resolution movement data individuals for 4 months.”  This advanced technology comes at a cost: each transmitter is a $360 investment that will not be recovered from the fish. The investment, however, has already provided findings that suggest that this species of grunt may not be the “homebodies” that they were believed to be.

Image 2. Tagged white grunts. Note fish were implanted with internal acoustic transmitters and tagged externally with plastic color-coded tags to identify individuals throughout the study. Photo credit: Katrina Munsterman

“Previous studies and fishers alike suggest that white grunts forage in seagrass beds at night and return to the same home reef each day to shelter. But our data, using external color-coded tags (see Images 2 and 3) and visual surveys, show that white grunts may shelter on different reefs that are spaced >150 m apart. The next step is to investigate when and why this is using a combination of fish movement and body condition data, and underwater visual surveys of fish and seagrass.”  Munsterman will return to the Bahamas in July to download the receivers and analyze individual movement data. “The ultimate goal of this study is to test basic ecological questions that can be applied to coastal fisheries management.”

Image 3. Tagged fish on an artificial reef built by Jake Allgeier in a seagrass bed in The Bahamas. The yellow and brown tags denote white grunts with acoustic telemetry transmitters. Photo credit: Katrina Munsterman


For more information about the American Philosophical Society’s Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research, click here.