Honors College Theses

Publication Date



Biology (B.S.B.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Daniel Gleason


While the process of community development has been studied in terrestrial habitats since the turn of the 20th century, similar information is not as readily available in marine systems. Understanding patterns of community development is essential to predicting recovery potential and to designing effective marine protected areas. In the South Atlantic Bight, invertebrate communities on hard substrata can differ significantly from one rocky outcrop to another, but the factors driving these differences are not well understood. I documented the initial development of the benthic invertebrate community at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) to address the prediction that this system does not demonstrate a predictable pattern of succession. This prediction was investigated by tracking community development on natural substrate plots (30 x 30 cm) that were cleared of benthic organisms each summer between 2010 and 2015, and in each case were allowed to recover for one year. Comparisons of species richness, diversity, and percent cover showed that one year was not sufficient for the plots to recover to their original composition. While plots cleared in different years did exhibit similar patterns of species richness and diversity after one year of recovery, closer inspection revealed that the particular species present was not consistent across years. In addition, the percent cover varied from year to year. These results indicate that succession models do not apply to the sessile benthic invertebrate community of GRNMS.