Invasive Lionfish Rapidly Spreading in Mediterranean, Threatening Biodiversity

Lionfish, a predatory fish species native to the Indo-Pacific, are quickly taking over parts of the Mediterranean Sea, a new study from Dutch researchers shows. The study, published in the journal NeoBiota, found that lionfish have greatly expanded their range in the Mediterranean in the past decade since they first invaded. They’ve even spread to colder waters that scientists previously thought were not suitable for them.

Lionfish Prey on Native Species

Lionfish are known to be one of the most successful invasive fish species in the ocean. They are generalist predators, meaning they eat a wide variety of prey. This allows them to have a big impact on the ecosystems they invade by extensively eating local fish, including unique species that are important to protect. The native prey aren’t used to lionfish, so they usually don’t try to escape from this new predator.
“After years studying these predators, I find it amazing how they can easily adjust to so many different environments and be successful in areas that are so different from the ones where they evolve,” said Davide Bottacini, the study’s lead author.

Mediterranean Uniquely Vulnerable

The Mediterranean Sea is especially vulnerable to the impacts of invasive lionfish. It is the largest enclosed sea on Earth and has a very high biodiversity, with over 11,000 animal species. Some of these species are found nowhere else in the world. Genetic studies showed that the lionfish in the Mediterranean came from the Red Sea, likely entering through the Suez Canal.
The researchers identified gaps in understanding how lionfish interact with Mediterranean ecosystems. Filling these gaps will be important for conservation efforts and helping policymakers come up with effective plans to control the invasion. The study also highlighted the important role of citizen science in tracking and reporting lionfish sightings to aid research efforts.

Bottacini D, Pollux BJA, Nijland R, Jansen PA, Naguib M, Kotrschal A (2024) Lionfish (Pterois miles) in the Mediterranean Sea: a review of the available knowledge with an update on the invasion front. NeoBiota 92: 233–257.

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