Biological Invasions

, Volume 20, Issue 9, pp 2567–2597 | Cite as

Feeding ecology of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the temperate and tropical western Atlantic

  • Jonathan Peake
  • Alex K. BogdanoffEmail author
  • Craig A. Layman
  • Bernard Castillo
  • Kynoch Reale-Munroe
  • Jennifer Chapman
  • Kristen Dahl
  • William F. Patterson III
  • Corey Eddy
  • Robert D. Ellis
  • Meaghan Faletti
  • Nicholas Higgs
  • Michelle A. Johnston
  • Roldan C. Muñoz
  • Vera Sandel
  • Juan Carlos Villasenor-Derbez
  • James A. MorrisJr.
Original Paper


Numerous location-based diet studies have been published describing different aspects of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) feeding ecology, but there has been no synthesis of their diet composition and feeding patterns across regional gradients. 8125 lionfish stomachs collected from 10 locations were analyzed to provide a generalized description of their feeding ecology at a regional scale and to compare their diet among locations. Our regional data indicate lionfish in the western Atlantic are opportunistic generalist carnivores that consume at least 167 vertebrate and invertebrate prey species across multiple trophic guilds, and carnivorous fish and shrimp prey that are not managed fishery species and not considered at risk of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature disproportionately dominate their diet. Correlations between lionfish size and their diet composition indicate lionfish in the western Atlantic transition from a shrimp-dominated diet to a fish-dominated diet through ontogeny. Lionfish total length (TL) (mm) was found to predict mean prey mass per stomach (g) by the following equation mean prey mass =0.0002*TL1.6391, which can be used to estimate prey biomass consumption from lionfish length-frequency data. Our locational comparisons indicate lionfish diet varies considerably among locations, even at the group (e.g., crab) and trophic guild levels. The Modified Index of Relative Importance developed specifically for this study, calculated as the frequency of prey a × the number of prey a, can be used in other diet studies to assess prey importance when prey mass data are not available. Researchers and managers can use the diet data presented in this study to make inference about lionfish feeding ecology in areas where their diet has yet to be described. These data can be used to guide research and monitoring efforts, and can be used in modeling exercises to simulate the potential effects of lionfish on marine food webs. Given the large variability in lionfish diet composition among locations, this study highlights the importance of continued location-based diet assessments to better inform local management activities.


Cumulative prey curves Feeding ecology Food webs Indices of prey importance Invasive species Pterois volitans Pterois miles Regional diet trends 



We appreciate the thoughtful comments provided by K. Shertzer, S. Gittings, T. Kellison, A. Hohn, A. Chester, and two anonymous reviewers. We thank NOAAs National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAAs Office of Education, and the Earnest F. Hollings Scholarship Program for providing support for this project. We are grateful to all who helped collect the data that were used in this study including N. Van Der Haar, M. Doodey, G. Lotz-Cador, the Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education Foundation (CORE), UVI CHE 495 students, New Wave Ltd. fishing co., the Bermuda Lionfish Culling Program, C. Buckel, C. Coy, B. Degan, W. Freshwater, J. Hoyt, D. Kesling, M. Lacroix P. Maddi, T. Potts, C. Shemanski, J. Styron, G. Taylor, L. Akins, NOAA Sanctuaries divers, divers from Texas A&M University Galveston, the MV FLING, the Fish Conservation Lab at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, staff and volunteers of Blue Ventures Expeditions in Belize, D. Kennedy, C. Retherford, S. Bartel, B. Clark, A. Clark, J. Tarnecki, J. Mostowy, and S. Stockton-Teleske.

Author’s contribution

Statement of authorship: J.A.M. and A.K.B. conceived and designed the study; A.K.B. & J.P. conducted the study and wrote the manuscript; all authors contributed stomach content data and revised the manuscript. Authors after C.A.L are listed alphabetically by institution.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Peake
    • 1
  • Alex K. Bogdanoff
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Craig A. Layman
    • 3
  • Bernard Castillo
    • 4
  • Kynoch Reale-Munroe
    • 4
  • Jennifer Chapman
    • 5
  • Kristen Dahl
    • 6
  • William F. Patterson III
    • 6
  • Corey Eddy
    • 7
  • Robert D. Ellis
    • 8
  • Meaghan Faletti
    • 9
  • Nicholas Higgs
    • 10
  • Michelle A. Johnston
    • 11
  • Roldan C. Muñoz
    • 12
  • Vera Sandel
    • 13
  • Juan Carlos Villasenor-Derbez
    • 14
  • James A. MorrisJr.
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Marine ScienceUniversity of South FloridaSt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.NOAA, National Centers for Coastal Ocean ScienceBeaufortUSA
  3. 3.Department of Applied EcologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  4. 4.College of Science and MathematicsUniversity of the Virgin IslandsSt. CroixUSA
  5. 5.Level 2 Annex, Omnibus Business CentreBlue Ventures ConservationLondonUK
  6. 6.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  7. 7.Department of BiologyUniversity of Massachusetts DartmouthNorth DartmouthUSA
  8. 8.Fish and Wildlife Research InstituteFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionSt. PetersburgUSA
  9. 9.Department of Biological ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  10. 10.Marine InstitutePlymouth UniversityPlymouthUK
  11. 11.NOAA, Flower Garden Banks National Marine SanctuaryGalvestonUSA
  12. 12.Southeast Fishery Science CenterNOAA, National Marine Fishery ServiceBeaufortUSA
  13. 13.Programa de Maestríaen Ciencias Marinas y Costerasde laUniversidad Nacional de Costa RicaPuntarenasCosta Rica
  14. 14.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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