Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets

Ruttenberg BI, PJ Schofield, JL Akins, A Acosta, MW Feeley, J Blondeau, SG Smith, and JS Ault. 2012. Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets.

Bulletin of Marine Science. 88(4):1051–1059

Over the past decade, Indo-Pacific lionfishes have invaded and spread throughout much of the tropical and subtropical northwestern Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. These species are generalist predators of fishes and invertebrates with the potential to disrupt the ecology of the invaded range. Lionfishes have been present in low numbers along the east coast of Florida since the 1980s, but were not reported in the Florida Keys until 2009. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. The results are the first to quantify the invasion of lionfishes in a new area using multiple independent, ongoing monitoring data sets, two of which have explicit estimates of sampling effort. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone. In addition, individuals were detected on a variety of reef and non-reef habitats throughout the Florida Keys. Because lionfish occurrence, abundance, and impacts are expected to continue to increase throughout the region, monitoring programs like REEF's Volunteer Survey Project will be essential to document ecosystem changes that may result from this invasion.

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