Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Cluster analyses of seasonal (spring and fall) National Marine Fisheries Service Groundfish Survey bottom trawl catches on the Middle Atlantic Bight continental shelf revealed consistent species associations and faunal zones over a nine year period during. Boundaries between faunal zones tended to follow isotherms on the inner portions of the shelf and isobaths along the outer shelf. During the late winter/early spring, four faunal zones were identified: a northern inner and middle shelf zone extending from Cape Cod southward to about Delaware Bay, a northern middle and outer shelf zone offshore of the first zone, a southern middle and outer shelf zone, and a fourth zone on the shelf break and upper slope. The southern inner shelf was a transition zone between the first and third zones. Five species groups were identified: a small cryophilic group restricted to the first zone, a cold-water boreal group found in the first two zones, a ubiquitous boreal/resident group containing the major dominants, a warm-temperate group confined to the warmer southern and outer shelf waters, and a group of slope residents confined to the deepest zone. During the fall, five faunal zones were identified: a southern inner and middle shelf zone, a northern inner shelf zone, a northern mid-shelf zone, an outer shelf zone and a shelf break/upper slope zone. The five species associations recognized were largely analogous to those in the spring, with the following exceptions: the cryophilic group was absent, the ubiquitous group contained mixed boreal and warm-temperate elements, and a second outer shelf group was recognized. The most notable change in the distribution of groups from the spring was a general northward shift in the distributions of the boreal species and a sharply defined inshore movement of the warm temperate group. Analyses of a single summer cruise showed patterns of distribution intermediate to those seen during the spring and fall. Absolute abundances, both of individual species and the total fish community, were highly variable between areas, seasons and years. Species diversity and its components appear to be of little utility in describing the fish communities of the open continental shelves.



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