The impacts of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) on native coral reef populations in the Western Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea can be enormous. However, there is still more to be learned about how much lionfish impacts differ from native predators, such as small grouper/seabass species (also known as mesopredators.) A new scientific paper recently published in the journal Coral Reefs evaluates these differences. The paper, titled "Ecological impacts of an invasive mesopredator do not differ from those of a native mesopredator: lionfish in Caribbean Panama," presents empirical evidence from Caribbean Panama and beyond, suggesting that lionfish are less abundant than native mesopredators, such as small seabass. Their findings also show the lionfish and Graysby, a native mesopredator, have similar direct impacts on survivorship and size distributions of Masked Goby, a native prey species, in spite of differences in predator population numbers.
The authors used REEF data collected from sites throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Western Atlantic from 2010-2015 to supplement data collected as part of their field work. By leveraging the citizen-science data collected by REEF volunteers, the authors evaluated the impacts of native and non-native mesopredators across a much broader geographic region and longer time period than otherwise possible based solely on surveys conducted as part of their field work, which was limited to just one year in Caribbean Panama. REEF data substantially enhanced the evidence used to show that lionfish tended to be much less common than Graysby over the six-year period. The findings of this paper will help guide lionfish management and control, and provide support for synergies between conservation actions aimed both at the invasion and other consequential problems such as overexploitation and climate change. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to read the full paper, and to see a full listing of the 100+ scientific publications that have included REEF data and programs.