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Hurricanes Accelerated the Florida-Bahamas Lionfish Invasion

Hurricanes Accelerated the Florida-Bahamas Lionfish Invasion

Abstract:

In this study, we demonstrate how perturbations to the Florida Current caused by hurricanes are relevant to the spread of invasive lionfish from Florida to the Bahamas. Without such perturbations, this current represents a potential barrier to the transport of planktonic lionfish eggs and larvae across the Straits of Florida. We further show that once lionfish became established in the Bahamas, hurricanes significantly hastened their spread through the island chain. We gain these insights through: 1) an analysis of the direction and velocity of simulated ocean currents during the passage of hurricanes through the Florida Straits and, 2) the development of a biophysical model that incorporates the tolerances of lionfish to ocean climate, their reproductive strategy, and duration that the larvae remain viable in the water column. On the basis of this work, we identify 23 occasions between the years 1992 and 2006 in which lionfish were provided the opportunity to breach the Florida Current.  We also find that hurricanes during this period increased the rate of spread of lionfish through the Bahamas by more than 45% and magnified its population by at least 15%.  Beyond invasive lionfish, we suggest that extreme weather events such as hurricanes likely help to homogenize the gene pool for all Caribbean marine species susceptible to transport.

Johnston MW, Purkis SJ (2015) Hurricanes Accelerated the Florida-Bahamas Lionfish Invasion. Global Change Biology 21, 2249-2260.http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12874

 


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