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Lion­fish invad­ing the Mediter­ranean Sea

pub­lished 03 July 2016 | mod­i­fied 03 July 2016

Common lionfishRis­ing sea tem­per­a­tures in the Mediter­ranean are encour­ag­ing alien lion­fish species to invade and colonise new ter­ri­to­ries with poten­tially seri­ous eco­log­i­cal and socio-​economic impacts.

Evi­dence col­lated from divers and fish­er­men reveals that in the space of a year, the ven­omous preda­tors have colonised Cyprus — and these may be at the van­guard of a pan-​Atlantic Ocean inva­sion fol­low­ing the widen­ing and deep­en­ing of the Suez Canal.

The report, pub­lished on 30 June in the jour­nal Marine Bio­di­ver­sity Records, was writ­ten by Mr Demetris Kle­tou, of the Marine & Envi­ron­men­tal Research Lab, in Limas­sol, Cyprus and Pro­fes­sor Jason Hall-​Spencer, of the School of Marine Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing at Ply­mouth University.

Accord­ing to Mr Demetris Kle­tou few sight­ings of the alien lion­fish (Pterois miles) have been reported in the Mediter­ranean until now and it was ques­tion­able whether the species could invade this region like it has in the west­ern Atlantic. But the researchers found that lion­fish have recently increased in abun­dance, and within a year have colonised almost the entire south east­ern coast of Cyprus, assisted by sea sur­face warming.

Groups of lion­fish exhibit­ing mat­ing behav­iour have been noted for the first time in the Mediter­ranean. By pub­lish­ing this infor­ma­tion, we can help stake­hold­ers plan mit­i­gat­ing action …
Pro­fes­sor Jason Hall-​Spencer, School of Marine Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing, Ply­mouth University »

Lion­fish are gen­er­al­ist car­ni­vores and can feed on a vari­ety of fish and crus­taceans, with large indi­vid­u­als prey­ing almost exclu­sively on fish. They spawn every four days, year-​round, pro­duc­ing around two mil­lion buoy­ant gelati­nous eggs per year, which can ride the ocean cur­rents and cover large dis­tances for about a month before they settle.

Their suc­cess at invad­ing new ter­ri­to­ries stems from a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors such as early mat­u­ra­tion and repro­duc­tion, and ven­omous spines that deter preda­tors, and they can quickly colonise reefs and reduce bio­di­ver­sity in the area.

Lion­fish filmed in coastal waters of Cyprus

(Source: JamE­Dodger YouTube channel)

The research team col­lated infor­ma­tion on reported encoun­ters in coastal waters from divers, spearfish­ers and fish­er­men, and con­ducted inter­views, gath­er­ing pho­to­graphic and video evi­dence, and record­ing the date of the sight­ing, and the loca­tion. In addi­tion, gov­ern­men­tal offi­cers of the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Marine Research of the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Rural Devel­op­ment and Envi­ron­ment, in Cyprus, shared infor­ma­tion and spec­i­mens cap­tured in nets by local coastal fishermen.

The results show that the lion­fish P. miles has colonised almost the entire south east­ern coast of Cyprus, from Limas­sol to Pro­taras in just one year.

Cyprus lionfish sightingsUpdated lion­fish reports from the island of Cyprus. Oray et al. (2015) and Iglésias & Frotté (2015) sight­ings are pre­sented in grey. Local­ity points on the map are roughly esti­mated based on the infor­ma­tion pro­vided by the per­son who reported the lion­fish sight­ing. * indi­cates the pres­ence of a lion­fish pair.
Demetris Kle­tou, Jason M. Hall-​Spencer and Perik­lis Kleitou, A lion­fish (Pterois miles) inva­sion has begun in the Mediter­ranean Sea, Marine Bio­di­ver­sity Records 2016 9:46, DOI: 10.1186/s41200-0160065-y; Cre­ative Com­mons Attri­bu­tion 4.0 Inter­na­tional License.

At least 23 new and con­firmed sight­ings of 19 indi­vid­u­als were recorded, such as three pairs sighted from the south-​eastern side of Cyprus, one off Lar­naca, one at Zinovia wreck and one at Pto­taras. One of the pairs has since become a group of five, all liv­ing together at Cyclops Caves.

Pro­fes­sor Hall-​Spencer said:

Groups of lion­fish exhibit­ing mat­ing behav­iour have been noted for the first time in the Mediter­ranean. By pub­lish­ing this infor­ma­tion, we can help stake­hold­ers plan mit­i­gat­ing action, such as offer­ing incen­tives for divers and fish­er­men to run lion­fish removal pro­grammes, which have worked well at shal­low depths in the Caribbean, and restor­ing pop­u­la­tions of poten­tial preda­tors, such as the dusky grouper. Given that the Suez Canal has recently been widened and deep­ened, mea­sures will need to be put in place to help pre­vent fur­ther invasion.”

The Caribbean inva­sion by lion­fish
In the Caribbean, the lion­fish made its way into sci­ence because of its remark­able suc­cess as it is eat­ing its way through the reef ecosys­tem. Lion­fish are native to the Pacific, but they have been acci­den­tally intro­duced in the Caribbean almost 30 years ago. Since then it is tak­ing over the Caribbean Basin and mov­ing fur­ther north along the US East Coast.

The rea­son for this suc­cess of the lion­fish inva­sion in the Caribbean has been the objec­tive of a study pub­lished in the sci­en­tific jour­nal PLoS ONE. The research sug­gests that the solu­tion in part lies in the power of cam­ou­flage, as these vora­cious car­ni­vores are vir­tu­ally unde­tectable by small prey fish. The researchers have found that the spiny, toxic and beau­ti­ful mem­bers of the world’s coral reef com­mu­ni­ties are unde­tectable by prey, act­ing as ghosts able to feed on any­thing and every­thing with­out being dis­cov­ered until it’s too late. With­out any nat­ural ene­mies in their new sys­tem and no prob­lem catch­ing food, the lion­fish are prac­ti­cally unstop­pable, which is kind of impres­sive.
This makes the lion­fish the worst marine inva­sion ever.

Genetic work has revealed that the Atlantic pop­u­la­tion of Red Lion­fish is com­posed pri­mar­ily of P. voli­tans with a small num­ber of closely-​related P. miles.

(Source: Ply­mouth Uni­ver­sity news, 28.06.2016; U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey, Non­indige­nous Aquatic Species; PLOS ONE; About Zoos, Red lion­fish — the worst marine inva­sion ever)

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