Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 96, Issue 10–11, pp 1151–1157 | Cite as

Worst case scenario: potential long-term effects of invasive predatory lionfish (Pterois volitans) on Atlantic and Caribbean coral-reef communities

  • Mark A. AlbinsEmail author
  • Mark A. Hixon


The Pacific red lionfish has recently invaded Western Atlantic and Caribbean coral reefs, and may become one of the most ecologically harmful marine fish introductions to date. Lionfish possess a broad suite of traits that makes them particularly successful invaders and strong negative interactors with native fauna, including defensive venomous spines, cryptic form, color and behavior, habitat generality, high competitive ability, low parasite load, efficient predation, rapid growth, and high reproductive rates. With an eye on the future, we describe a possible “worst case scenario” in which the direct and indirect effects of lionfish could combine with the impacts of preexisting stressors—especially overfishing—and cause substantial deleterious changes in coral-reef communities. We also discuss management actions that could be taken to minimize these potential effects by, first, developing targeted lionfish fisheries and local removals, and second, enhancing native biotic resistance, particularly via marine reserves that could conserve and foster potential natural enemies of this invader. Ultimately, the lionfish invasion will be limited either by the lionfish starving—the worst end to the worst case scenario—or by some combination of native pathogens, parasites, predators, and competitors controlling the abundance of lionfish.


Biological invasions Biotic resistance Coral-reef fishes Ecological release Invasive species 



We are grateful to D. Noakes for inviting us to participate in the 2008 AAAS Special Session on Fish Conservation, and to K. Cure and S. Green for insightful reviews. We also thank the U.S. National Science Foundation for funding our ongoing research on the lionfish invasion through a Graduate Research Fellowship (Albins) and a research grant (08-51162 Hixon).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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