Lionfish Sources and Sinks

Forecasting lionfish sources and sinks in the Atlantic: are Gulf of Mexico reef fisheries at risk?


Invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles complex) now permeate the entire tropical western Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico but lionfish abundance has been measured only in select locations in the field. Despite its rapid range expansion, a comprehensive meta-population analysis of lionfish ‘sources’ and ‘sinks’ and consequentially the invader’s potential abundance and impacts on economically important, sympatric reef fishes have not been assessed. These data are urgently needed to spatially direct control efforts and to plan for and perhaps mitigate lionfish-caused damage. Here we use a biophysical computer model to: (1) forecast larval lionfish sources and sinks that are also delineated as low to high lionfish ‘density zones’ throughout their invaded range, and (2) assess the potential vulnerability of five grouper and snapper species — Epinephelus morio, Mycteroperca microlepis, E. flavolimbatus, Lutjanus campechanus, and Rhomboplites aurorubens — to lionfish within these density zones in the Gulf of Mexico. Our results suggest that the west Florida shelf and nearshore waters of Texas, USA, and Guyana, South America, function both as lionfish sources and sinks and should be high priority for targeted lionfish control. Furthermore, of the five groupers and snappers studied, the high fishery value E. morio (red grouper) is the Gulf of Mexico species most at risk from lionfish. Lacking a comprehensive lionfish control policy, these risk exposure data inform managers where removals should be focused and demonstrate the risk to five sympatric native groupers and snappers in the Gulf of Mexico that may be susceptible to dense lionfish aggregations, should control efforts fail.

Johnston MW, Bernard AB, Shivji MS (in press) Forecasting lionfish sources and sinks in the Atlantic: are Gulf of Mexico reef fisheries at risk? Coral Reefs