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Paul Arena, Ph.D.

Paul Arena
Associate Professor
(954) 262-8335


  • Ph.D. (2006) Oceanography/Marine Biology. Fish Assemblage Structure on Vessel-Reefs and Adjacent Natural Reefs. Nova Southeastern University, Oceanographic Center.
  • M.S. (2002) Marine Biology and Marine Environmental Science. Nova Southeastern University, Oceanographic Center.
  • B.S. (1997) Environmental Science. Rutgers University, Cook College.


From a very early age I was intrigued by the natural world. Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. one might think there were limited opportunities to observe and study nature. However, my small concrete yard had an edge of plantings my great grandmother maintained and this provided enough habitat to sustain a small arthropod community. I was fascinated by these bugs and often collected and fed them. I was amazed how each organism survived and I learned all I could about the interactions they had with each other. My passion for terrestrial ecology then developed into an interest in the marine world during college. I wanted to be the first person to successfully keep a Great White Shark in captivity. Although I never realized that dream, I was fortunate enough to immerse myself in the South Florida marine environment during graduate school while studying reef fish assemblages. After getting the bends several times in the last decade, I currently have broadened my scope to include terrestrial ecology and the use of novel technologies (ROVs – Remotely Operated Vehicles) to monitor marine communities.

Research Interests

Ecology of Fish Assemblages on Natural and Artificial Reefs

My research was one of the first studies on sunken vessels in the Southeastern United States. The results have revealed strikingly, different communities between the two habitats. I support the use of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and suggest deploying vessels within MPAs to enhance their effectiveness by attracting economically important species.

Age and Growth of Reef Fishes Using Otolith Analysis

Currently, several graduate and undergraduate students are working on determining the age and growth of several reef fishes. One of the species, is the Hogfish, Lachnolaimus maximus, an economically important and highly targeted fish species. A data gap exists in South Florida concerning local Hogfish populations and we are working to determine differences between our area and other established stocks in the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico.

Butterfly Research

My students and I have been investigating the growth and survival of Heliconian butterflies, including the Zebra Longwing, our state butterfly, on various host species of Passiflora (Passion Vine). We have revealed dramatic and statistical differences between native and exotic species of Passion Vine.

Gopher Tortoise Research

My students and I are using wildlife trail cameras to assess the activity of Gopher Tortoises in Broward County Natural Areas, as well as determine the commensal species which utilize their subterranean dens.

Deep Habitat Surveys using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

My students and I are characterizing areas of the upper mesophotic zone (>30m) using video surveys from a new mini-commercial grade ROV. These sites are deeper than the dive limits of most recreational SCUBA divers. We are looking at both fish and benthic invertebrate communities.

Spider Ecology

My first interest in the natural world was ignited by arachnids. That interest has developed into arachnophilia and I am currently working with several students on various research projects looking at local species. We have shown the Golden Orb Weaver, Nephila clavipes, is larger in urban areas than natural areas. We are investigating several reasons for this finding, including possible differences in prey densities and light exposure.

Biodiversity of Native Plant Communities

Widespread urban development has led to the removal of the majority of natural terrestrial habitats in South Florida. Additionally, the plants we typically use for our home landscapes are often dominated by exotic species. I am interested in research focusing on the benefits of using native species to enhance local biodiversity and establishing a region wide native landscape plan to create necessary habitat for locally impacted species.

Courses Taught at NSU

  • BIOL 1510 Biology II/Lab
  • BIOL 3200 General Ecology/Lab
  • BIOL 3311 Vertebrate Zoology/Lab
  • ENVS 1500 Natural History of South Florida
  • ENVS 2000 Biodiversity of Alaskan Ecosystems – Online
  • ENVS 2001 Biodiversity of Alaskan Ecosystems Field Course – Study Travel in Alaska
  • MBIO 2410 Marine Biology/Lab
  • MBIO 3700 Biology of Fishes/Lab


Arena, P.T. 2015. Wastelands to Wonderlands: The Shifting Environmental Identities of Alaska and Florida. Quadrivium. Issue 6. Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences. Nova Southeastern University.

Arena, P.T. 2011. Protecting fish assemblages on sunken vessels to enhance diving ecotourism and local natural resources. In: Michallef, A. (ed.), MCRR3-2010 Conference Proceedings, Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue, No. 61, pp. 375-377.

Arena, P.T., Jordan, L.K.B., and R.E. Speiler 2007. Fish assemblages on sunken-vessels and natural reefs in southeast Florida, USA. Hydrobiologia 580(1):157-171.

Arena, P.T., Jordan, L.K.B., Sherman, R.L., Harttung, F.M. and R.E. Spieler 2002. Presence of Juvenile Blackfin Snapper, Lutjanus buccanella, and Snowy Grouper, Epinephelus niveatus, on Shallow-water Artificial Reefs. Proceedings of the 55th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 55: 700-712.

Arena, P.T., Jordan, L.K.B., Harttung F.M., Fletcher, P., and Spieler, R.E. 2002. Fish Census of Selected Artificial Reefs in Broward County, Florida: Preliminary Results. Proceedings of the Florida Artificial Reef Summit 2002.   

Jordan, L.K.B., Gilliam, D.S., Sherman, R.L., Arena, P.T., Harttung, F.M., Baron, R. and R.E. Spieler 2002. Spatial and Temporal Recruitment Patterns of Juvenile Grunts (Haemulon spp.) in South Florida. Proceedings of the 55th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 55: 322-336.


“Preserve restored to coastal habitat over two decades”, Coastal Star, November 2014.

2012 Author FMNP spotlight article - “NSU undergraduate Florida Master Naturalists Aim to Educate the Public and Protect Florida’s Natural Resources”

Featured CBS new report - Lantana Nature Preserve exotic and invasive plant identification and removal. NSU undergraduate Nature club members voluntarily removed these species.

“Out with the bad, In with the good at a local nature preserve”

Featured in episode of “Knowledge”, a German documentary television show. The episode entitled “Ships to Reefs” highlighted my research concerning fish assemblages associated with sunken vessels off the coast of Broward County, Florida. 

2009 News Article on my research : “Vessel reefs as a useful tool for no-take areas and fisheries management”, MPA News Vol. 11:1 p.4

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