Biological Invasions

, Volume 20, Issue 12, pp 3513–3526 | Cite as

Genotyping confirms significant cannibalism in northern Gulf of Mexico invasive red lionfish, Pterois volitans

  • Kristen A. DahlEmail author
  • David S. Portnoy
  • J. Derek Hogan
  • John E. Johnson
  • John R. Gold
  • William F. PattersonIII
Original Paper


DNA barcoding is used in a variety of ecological applications to identify organisms, including partially digested prey items from diet samples. That particular application can enhance the ability to characterize diet and predator–prey dynamics but is problematic when genetic sequences of prey match those of consumer species (i.e., self-DNA). Such a result may indicate cannibalism, but false positives can result from contamination of degraded prey samples with consumer DNA. Here, nuclear-encoded microsatellite markers were used to genotype invasive lionfish, Pterois volitans, consumers and their prey (n = 80 pairs) previously barcoded as lionfish. Cannibalism was confirmed when samples exhibited two or more different alleles between lionfish and prey DNA across multiple microsatellite loci. This occurred in 26.2% of all samples and in 42% of samples for which the data were considered conclusive. These estimates should be considered conservative given rigorous assignment criteria and low allelic diversity in invasive lionfish populations. The highest incidence of cannibalism corresponded to larger sized consumers from areas with high lionfish densities, suggesting cannibalism in northern Gulf of Mexico lionfish is size- and density-dependent. Cannibalism has the potential to influence population dynamics of lionfish which lack native western Atlantic predators. These results also have important implications for interpreting DNA barcoding analysis of diet in other predatory species where cannibalism may be underreported.


Lionfish Cannibalism DNA barcoding Microsatellite genotyping Self-DNA 



We thank Amanda Barker, Pavel Dimens, Shannon O’Leary, Dannielle Kulaw, Dominic Swift, Elizabeth Hunt, and Stuart Willis for assistance in the Marine Genomics Lab at TAMU-CC during this study. We thank Dalton Kennedy, Scott Bartel, Clint Retherford, Bryan Clark, Andy Ross, Anna Clark, Jeremy Porter, Michael Day and Kylie Gray for assistance acquiring lionfish samples for this study. We thank Joseph Tarnecki, Brian Klimek, Justin Lewis, Steve Garner, and Michael Norberg for assistance with the processing of whole lionfish. This research was made possible by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative/C-IMAGE II. Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at (doi: 10.7266/N7F769ZD). This research was also made possible by a grant from Mississippi Alabama SeaGrant (USM-GR03924-R-HCE-04-PD).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Fisheries and Aquatic SciencesUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Life SciencesTexas A&M University-Corpus ChristiCorpus ChristiUSA

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