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Occurrence of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) larvae in the northern Gulf of Mexico: characterization of dispersal pathways and spawning areas

Abstract

Here we document for the first time the presence of invasive lionfish larvae (Pterois volitans) in the Gulf of Mexico. Three lionfish larvae (standard length: 3.9–5.9 mm) were collected during summer ichthyoplankton surveys in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2011, with species identification confirmed through the genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA. Pigmentation patterns of these larvae are described and compared with published lionfish descriptions. Otolith microstructure analysis revealed that larvae were 14–17 days old and that spawning occurred in June and July. A biophysical dispersal model was used to backtrack larvae to their potential spawning locations and results indicated that spawning occurred in the southern Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatán Peninsula, suggesting that these larvae may have been transported into the northern Gulf of Mexico by the Loop Current. Here we provide useful information for identifying lionfish larvae and offer insight into lionfish spawning and larval dispersal pathways.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Landes Randall, Lynne Wetmore, Lori Timm, and Jessica Lee for their assistance in the field and laboratory. We also thank Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for graciously providing support for this study.

Author information

Correspondence to L. L. Kitchens.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Animated backtrack simulations for a lionfish larva (LF3) with and without vertical migration (top and bottom, respectively). In this animation, the simulated larvae are released at the collection site in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Each second in the animation represents backwards-projected movement every day until the larva’s estimated hatch date. Colors show the depth of the larvae at each time step. (M4 V 14283 kb)

Fig. S1

Animated backtrack simulations for a lionfish larva (LF3) with and without vertical migration (top and bottom, respectively). In this animation, the simulated larvae are released at the collection site in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Each second in the animation represents backwards-projected movement every day until the larva’s estimated hatch date. Colors show the depth of the larvae at each time step. (M4 V 14283 kb)

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Kitchens, L.L., Paris, C.B., Vaz, A.C. et al. Occurrence of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) larvae in the northern Gulf of Mexico: characterization of dispersal pathways and spawning areas. Biol Invasions 19, 1971–1979 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10530-017-1417-1

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Keywords

  • Lionfish
  • Pterois volitans
  • Fish larvae
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Larval dispersal
  • Morphology