Competitive interactions for shelter between invasive Pacific red lionfish and native Nassau grouper

Abstract

The invasive Pacific red lionfish (Pterois volitans) poses a threat to western Atlantic and Caribbean coral reef systems. Lionfish are small-bodied predators that can reduce the abundance and diversity of native fishes via predation. Additionally, native predators or competitors appear to have a negligible effect on similarly sized lionfish. Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) are a regionally endangered, large predator found throughout lionfish’s invasive range. Because lionfish and Nassau grouper occupy similar habitats and use similar resources, there is potential for competition between these two species. Using large, outdoor in-ground tanks, we investigated how lionfish and Nassau grouper affect each other’s behavior by comparing their distance from and use of shelter when in isolation versus when both species were in the presence of each other with limited shelter. We found that Nassau grouper, which displayed a high affinity for shelter in isolation, avoided lionfish in two distinct ways; (1) groupers positioned closer to and used limited shelter more when paired with similarly sized lionfish and (2) grouper moved much further away from shelter when paired with smaller lionfish. We also found that neither large lionfish nor large Nassau grouper preyed upon smaller individuals of the opposite species suggesting that Nassau grouper do not recognize small lionfish as prey. This study highlights how invasive lionfish may affect native Nassau grouper, and suggests that competition for shelter between these two species may be size dependent.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the staff and interns of the Perry Institute for Marine Science at Lee Stocking Island, Bahamas for their help and logistical support. We thank S. Hixon and K. Ingemen for their expert cage building skills and assistance in setting-up the experiment, collecting data, and enduring hundreds of mosquito bites. We also thank M.A. Hixon, M. Errend, and A. Lowe for their constructive comments in the preparation of this manuscript. All fish handling procedures were approved by IACUC though Oregon State University. This study was funded by NSF research grants 08–51162 and 12–33027 awarded to M.A. Hixon, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to M. Albins and an Oregon State University Undergraduate Research, Innovation, Scholarship & Creativity (URISC) grant awarded to W. Raymond.

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Correspondence to Wendel W. Raymond.

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Raymond, W.W., Albins, M.A. & Pusack, T.J. Competitive interactions for shelter between invasive Pacific red lionfish and native Nassau grouper. Environ Biol Fish 98, 57–65 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-014-0236-9

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Keywords

  • Avoidance
  • Bahamas
  • Refuge
  • Shelter dominance
  • Size dependence