What are Lionfish Really Doing on Reefs?

I think we are going to start seeing a number of studies that question the conventional wisdom regrading the dramatic impacts lionfish are having on reef fish communities.  Here is one from Los Roques in Venezuela.  They find no effect on native species richness or abundance 3 years after the invasion (abstract pasted below).  It seems the initial studies identifying large impacts were on isolated patches where lionfish could reduce recruitment of new prey.  Yet at larger spatial scales (an entire reef tract), perhaps lionfish are not causing major shifts in prey communities.

Abstract. There is an increasing concern that invasive lionfish will have dramatic impacts on native reef fish assemblages in the Caribbean. However, the intensity and speed of such changes will probably depend on the initial structure of each assemblage and on the lionfish population characteristics. The species composition of native fishes, diet and size structures were analyzed on a protected Venezuelan reef, through visual census on zones with and without lionfish, 1 and 3 years after the first sighting of Pterois (lionfish). Lionfish mean density ± SD increased from 30 ± 83.5 (n = 22) to 121 ± 164 ind ha−1 (n = 22), with an important increase in lionfish over 30 cm and the near absence of juveniles. Native species richness and densities remained stable through time. No significant change of native fish assemblage structure, species richness and density of potential Pterois prey, predators and competitors was found over time, but zones with lionfish had significantly higher levels of prey and predators, and significantly different fish assemblage structures. Most importantly, there was no interaction between time and the presence of Pterois on these metrics. Our results may suggest that: 1—a healthy composition of the initial structure of the reef fish assemblage may moderate the early impact of lionfish, and the observed lionfish densities (mean ± SD = 121 ± 164 ind ha−1, n = 22) were not sufficient to induce a significant change in the assemblage; and 2—lionfish probably select zones where species richness and density of prey are the highest.

By | 2017-12-01T14:02:30-05:00 November 18th, 2014|Categories: Coral, Featured, Fish, lionfish|2 Comments

About the Author:

Craig Layman
My lab’s interdisciplinary pursuits provide for a multi-faceted understanding of environmental change in the coastal realm. We are ecologists, asking questions that span population, community, ecosystem and evolutionary sub-disciplines. We often use a food web based perspective, exploring top-down (e.g., predation) and bottom-up (e.g., nutrient excretion) mechanisms by which animals affect ecosystem processes. All of our efforts are framed within a broader outreach framework, directly integrating science and education, using approaches such as this website.


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    Rolling Harbour November 18, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Intriguing. One person on GB has been arguing this – indeed that lionfish may have a beneficial effect on reefs – from the outset. Maybe vindication is imminent… RH

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    Kevin November 24, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Interesting findings, but as with many invasives, by the time we know the true impacts it’s often too late to do anything about the introduction. In any case, thanks for pointing out this new research so I can go back an update our article on invasive lionfish.

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