There’s a new predator in the Western North Atlantic, and it’s taking over. Paula Whitfield and her colleagues at the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory examined the range and abundance of lionfish (Pterois volitans) on the North Carolina continental shelf and in potential Marine Protected Areas (MPA) from NC to Florida. Her team found well-established populations along the continental shelf that were as large as native grouper populations, a potential competitor. Grouper population size serves as an indicator of lionfish proliferation risk because overfishing could open a niche in the local marine ecosystem, increasing resources for the lionfish.
Lionfish have also been found from Long Island to the Bahamas and in Bermuda. In some areas, including in each MPA studied, lionfish were the second most abundant species after scamp. Because of the lionfish’s lack of predators, voracious appetite for local fish, and prolific reproduction strategies, it represents a substantial threat to the present biodiversity of marine ecosystems in the Atlantic.
Biol. Invasions. doi: 10.1007/s10530-006-9005-9 (2007)