Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  • Albins MA, Hixon MA (2008) Invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans reduce recruitment of Atlantic coral-reef fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 367:233–238

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barbour AB, Montgomery ML, Adamson AA et al (2010) Mangrove use by the invasive lionfish Pterois volitans. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 401:291–294

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernadsky G, Goulet D (1991) A natural predator of the lionfish, Pterois miles. Copeia 1991:230–231

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bruckner AW (2005) The importance of the marine ornamental reef fish trade in the wider Caribbean. Rev Biol Trop 53:127–137

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Carr MH, Anderson TW, Hixon MA (2002) Biodiversity, population regulation, and the stability of coral-reef fish communities. Proc Natl Acad Sci 99:11241–11245

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Côté IM, Maljković A (2010) Predation rates of Indo-Pacific lionfish on Bahamian coral reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 404:219–225

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Csányi V, Dóka A (1993) Learning interactions between prey and predator fish. Mar Behav Physiol 23:63–78

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elton CS (1958) The ecology of invasions by animals and plants. Wiley, New York, 181 pp

    Google Scholar 

  • Endler JA (1981) An overview of the relationships between mimicry and crypsis. Biol J Linn Soc 16:25–31

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fishelson L (1997) Experiments and observations on food consumption, growth and starvation in Dendrochirus brachypterus and Pterois volitans (Pteroinae, Scorpaenidae). Environ Biol Fish 50:391

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Freshwater DW, Hines A, Parham S et al (2009) Mitochondrial control region sequence analyses indicate dispersal from the US East Coast as the source of the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans in the Bahamas. Mar Biol 156:1213–1221

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Green SJ, Côté IM (2009) Record densities of Indo-Pacific lionfish on Bahamian coral reefs. Coral Reefs 28:107

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Halpern BS (2003) The impact of marine reserves: do reserves work and does reserve size matter? Ecol Appl 13:S117–S137

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hare JA, Whitfield PE (2003) An integrated assessment of the introduction of lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles complex) to the western Atlantic Ocean. NOAA Tech. Memo. NOS NCCOS 2:1–21

    Google Scholar 

  • Hixon MA, Carr MH (1997) Synergistic predation, density dependence, and population regulation in marine fish. Science 277:946–949

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hixon MA, Jones GP (2005) Competition, predation, and density-dependent mortality in demersal marine fishes. Ecology 86:2847–2859

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jackson JBC (2010) The future of the oceans past. Phil Trans R Soc B 365:3765–3778

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mack RN, Simberloff D, Lonsdale WM et al (2000) Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecol Appl 10:689

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maljković A, Van Leeuwen TE, Cove SN (2008) Predation on the invasive red lionfish, Pterois volitans (Pisces: Scorpaenidae), by native groupers in the Bahamas. Coral Reefs 27:501–505

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morris JA (2009) The biology and ecology of the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, 168 pp

    Google Scholar 

  • Morris JA, Akins JL (2009) Feeding ecology of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) in the Bahamian archipelago. Environ Biol Fish 86:389–398

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morris JA Jr, Whitfield PE (2009) Biology, ecology, control and management of the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish: an updated integrated assessment. NOAA Tech. Memo. NOS NCCOS 99:1–57

    Google Scholar 

  • Morris JA, Akins JL, Barse A et al (2009) Biology and ecology of the invasive lionfishes, Pterois miles and Pterois volitans. Proceedings of the 61st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Gosier, Guadeloupe, French West Indies

  • Mumby PJ, Steneck RS (2008) Coral reef management and conservation in light of rapidly evolving ecological paradigms. Trends Ecol Evol 23:555–563

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mumby PJ, Dahlgren CP, Harborne AR et al (2006) Fishing, trophic cascades, and the process of grazing on coral reefs. Science 311:98–101

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pimentel D, Zuniga R, Morrison D (2005) Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecol Econ 52:273–288

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prugh LR, Stoner CJ, Epps CW et al (2009) The rise of the mesopredator. Bioscience 59:779–791

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ruiz GM, Carlton JT, Grosholz ED et al (1997) Global invasions of marine and estuarine habitats by non-indigenous species: mechanisms, extent, and consequences. Am Zool 37:621–632

    Google Scholar 

  • Ruiz-Carus R, Matheson JRE, Roberts JDE et al (2006) The western Pacific red lionfish, Pterois volitans (Scorpaenidae), in Florida: evidence for reproduction and parasitism in the first exotic marine fish established in state waters. Biol Conserv 128:384–390

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schiel DR, Kingsford MJ, Choat JH (1986) Depth distribution and abundance of benthic organisms and fishes at the subtropical Kermadec Islands. N Z J Mar Freshw Res 20:521–535

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schofield PJ (2009) Geographic extent and chronology of the invasion of non-native lionfish (Pterois volitans [Linnaeus 1758] and P. miles [Bennett 1828]) in the Western North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Aquat Invasions 4:473–479

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Semmens BX, Buhle ER, Salomon AK et al (2004) A hotspot of non-native marine fishes: evidence for the aquarium trade as an invasion pathway. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 266:239–244

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Skelhorn J, Rowland HM, Speed MP et al (2010) Masquerade: camouflage without crypsis. Science 327:51–51

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Stallings CD (2008) Indirect effects of an exploited predator on recruitment of coral-reef fishes. Ecology 89:2090–2095

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stallings CD (2009) Fishery-independent data reveal negative effect of human population density on Caribbean predatory fish communities. PLoS ONE 4:e5333

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sutherland WJ, Clout M, Côté IM et al (2010) A horizon scan of global conservation issues for 2010. Trends Ecol Evol 25:1–7

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vitousek PM, Mooney HA, Lubchenco J et al (1997) Human domination of Earth’s ecosystems. Science 277:494–499

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Whitfield PE, Hare JA, David AW et al (2007) Abundance estimates of the Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans/miles complex in the Western North Atlantic. Biol Invasions 9:53

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mark A. Albins.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Albins, M.A., Hixon, M.A. Worst case scenario: potential long-term effects of invasive predatory lionfish (Pterois volitans) on Atlantic and Caribbean coral-reef communities. Environ Biol Fish 96, 1151–1157 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-011-9795-1

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-011-9795-1

Keywords

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