Biological Invasions

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 45–58 | Cite as

Hot or not? Comparative behavioral thermoregulation, critical temperature regimes, and thermal tolerances of the invasive lionfish Pterois sp. versus native western North Atlantic reef fishes

  • B. D. Barker
  • A. Z. Horodysky
  • D. W. KerstetterEmail author
Original Paper


Temperature influences the geographic range, physiology, and behavior of many ectothermic species, including the invasive lionfish Pterois sp. Thermal parameters were experimentally determined for wild-caught lionfish at different acclimation temperatures (13, 20, 25 and 32 °C). Preferences and avoidance were evaluated using a videographic shuttlebox system, while critical thermal methodology evaluated tolerance. The lionfish thermal niche was compared experimentally to two co-occurring reef fishes (graysby Cephalopholis cruentata and schoolmaster Lutjanus apodus) also acclimated to 25 °C. The physiologically optimal temperature for lionfish is likely 28.7 ± 1 °C. Lionfish behavioral thermoregulation was generally linked to acclimation history; tolerance and avoidance increased significantly at higher acclimation temperatures, but final preference did not. The tolerance polygon of lionfish shows a strong correlation between thermal limits and acclimation temperature, with the highest CTmax at 39.5 °C and the lowest CTmin at 9.5 °C. The tolerance range of invasive lionfish (24.61 °C) is narrower than those of native graysby (25.25 °C) and schoolmaster (26.87 °C), mostly because of lower thermal maxima in the former. Results show that lionfish display “acquired” thermal tolerance at higher and lower acclimation temperatures, but are no more eurythermal than other tropical fishes. Collectively, these results suggest that while lionfish range expansion in the western Atlantic is likely over the next century from rising winter sea temperatures due to climate change, the magnitude of poleward radiation of this invasive species is limited and will likely be equivalent to native tropical and subtropical fishes with similar thermal minima.


Pterois sp. Temperature preference Thermal tolerance Shuttlebox CTM 



The authors thank those who assisted with the collection of specimens, including the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and its volunteers, especially Carlos and Allison Estapé. The lionfish image used in Fig. 1 was obtained courtesy of the Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Partial funding for this research was provided by the NSU President’s Faculty Research and Development Grant program to DWK and AZH. AZH received support from the NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center and the NSF Educational Partnership in Climate Change and Sustainability.

Ethical approval

Experimentation with the lionfish, schoolmaster snapper, and graysby grouper was conducted in compliance with ethical standards and under the approval of the NSU IACUC program, which issued the approval Control # 038-398-12-0723 to DWK.

Supplementary material

10530_2017_1511_MOESM1_ESM.docx (100 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 100 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Halmos College of Natural Sciences and OceanographyNova Southeastern UniversityDania BeachUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marine and Environmental ScienceHampton UniversityHamptonUSA

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