Biological Invasions

, Volume 20, Issue 9, pp 2343–2361 | Cite as

Invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) feeding ecology in Biscayne National Park, Florida, USA

  • Gorka Sancho
  • Peter R. Kingsley-Smith
  • James A. MorrisJr.
  • C. Anna Toline
  • Vanessa McDonough
  • Sarah M. Doty
Original Paper


Indo-Pacific Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) are venomous marine fishes in the family Scorpaenidae that invaded the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and western North Atlantic Ocean beginning in the mid-1980s. Lionfish are generalist, opportunistic predators that consume a variety of invertebrates and small reef fishes, such that the presence of Lionfish can significantly reduce reef fish abundance, diversity, and recruitment on invaded reefs. This study focused on the feeding ecology of Lionfish in Biscayne National Park (BNP), located in southeast Florida, USA. BNP consists of multiple marine habitats, including mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and limestone keys that support a diverse array of species resulting in multi-million dollar fishing and tourism industries. These habitats within BNP are at risk from the predatory impacts of invasive Lionfish. Through morphological prey identification of stomach contents, supplemented with DNA barcoding for identification of highly-digested prey items, Lionfish diet was analyzed and compared among fish sizes (immature, transitional and mature), BNP region (bay, shelf, and edge), and seasons (wet and dry). A total of 513 stomachs, containing more than 2600 prey items, were examined. We report that Lionfish in BNP fed predominantly on small reef fishes and small crustaceans, with a dietary shift from crustaceans to fishes occurring with increasing Lionfish size. Diets differed among BNP regions for medium-sized (100–179 mm) transitional Lionfish but not for large-sized (≥ 180 mm) mature individuals. Furthermore, dietary differences between seasons were observed in mature Lionfish, but no seasonal differences were detected for smaller Lionfish (i.e., immature and transitional Lionfish). Based on the diet habits observed, Lionfish in BNP could have significant ecological and economic consequences for BNP and south Florida coastal habitats.


Invasive species Lionfish Coral reef Diet Stomach contents 



This study would have not been possible without the support of the National Park Service and Lionfish collections made by Biscayne National Park personnel. We would also like to thank Erik Sotka and the Grice Marine Laboratory Molecular Core Facility at the College of Charleston for assistance with genetic barcoding, Anthony Harold from College of Charleston for helpful guidance and Gary Sundin from the SCDNR Shellfish Research Section for the preparation of Fig. 1. This work was part of Sarah Doty’s graduate thesis at the Graduate Program of Marine Biology at the College of Charleston. The research was funded by an American Museum of Natural History’s Lerner-Gray Grant for Marine Research, a Joanna Deepwater Fund Fellowship and a College of Charleston Student Assistantship to Sarah Doty, as well as internal funds from the National Park Service and the Biology Department of College of Charleston. This research followed the College of Charleston Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) permit number 2012–014. This publication represents the College of Charleston Grice Marine Laboratory contribution 506 and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Marine Resources Research Institute contribution 781.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyCollege of CharlestonCharlestonUSA
  2. 2.SCDNR Marine Resources Research InstituteCharlestonUSA
  3. 3.National Centers for Coastal Ocean ScienceNational Ocean Service, NOAABeaufortUSA
  4. 4.Hollings Marine LaboratoryNational Park Service, Southeast RegionCharlestonUSA
  5. 5.Biscayne National ParkHomesteadUSA
  6. 6.Department of Science and MathematicsTrident Technical CollegeNorth CharlestonUSA

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