Culling can be an effective management tool for reducing populations of invasive species to levels that minimize ecological effects. However, culling is labour-intensive, costly, and may have unintended ecological consequences. In the Caribbean, culling is widely used to control invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, Pterois volitans and P. miles, but the effectiveness of infrequent culling in terms of reducing lionfish abundance and halting native prey decline is unclear. In a 21-month-long field experiment on natural reefs, we found that culling effectiveness changed after the passage of a hurricane part-way through the experiment. Before the hurricane, infrequent culling resulted in substantial reductions in lionfish density (60–79%, on average, albeit with large uncertainty) and slight increases in native prey species richness, but was insufficient to stem the decline in native prey biomass. Culling every 3 months (i.e., quarterly) and every 6 months (i.e., biannually) had similar effects on lionfish density and native prey fishes because of high rates of lionfish colonization among reefs. After the hurricane, lionfish densities were greater on all culled reefs compared to non-culled reefs, and prey biomass declined by 92%, and species richness by 71%, on biannually culled reefs. The two culling frequencies we examined therefore seem to offer a poor trade-off between the demonstrated conservation gains that can be achieved with frequent culling and the economy of time and money realized by infrequent culling. Moreover, stochastic events such as hurricanes can drastically limit the effectiveness of culling efforts.
Lionfishes are venomous species of scorpionfishes which are native to Indo-Pacific coral reef ecosystems and adjacent habitats. Because of their colorful and dramatic appearance, they are prized by aquarists around the world. Through accidental and/or purposeful release into warm Atlantic waters, they have become established as a highly problematic alien species that poses a serious threat to coral reefs in Bermuda, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Central America, and northern South America. Invasive lionfish populations can reach high densities and cause extreme disruption to native fish communities; they have been shown to reduce biodiversity, are responsible for the decline of ecologically important species, and hinder stock-rebuilding efforts for economically important species.
In January 2010, in recognition of the severity of the lionfish invasion and its impact on coral reefs and local communities, the 24th General Meeting of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) agreed to set up an Ad Hoc Committee to develop a strategic plan for the control of lionfish in the Wider Caribbean. The Strategy described in this document is one of the actions implemented by the Ad Hoc Committee, known as the Regional Lionfish Committee (RLC). It seeks to build on the existing programs and efforts aimed at minimizing the impacts of the lionfish in the region, and to provide a framework for action to provide a regionally coordinated response to the lionfish threat. The Strategy is based on the following objectives:
- i) Facilitate collaboration among governments, reef-reliant industries, civil society, and academia by providing mechanisms for coordination of efforts across political and geographical boundaries,
- ii) Encourage a coordinated research and monitoring agenda,
- iii) Encourage governments to review and amend relevant legislation and, if necessary, develop new regulations and policies to control lionfish,
- iv) Control invasive lionfish populations using regionally coordinated, effective methods, and
- v) Provide education, information and outreach mechanisms to generate public support and foster stewardship in invasive lionfish programs.
Each of the objectives is supported by strategies and actions with specific stakeholders identified as possible implementers. It is expected that this Strategy will be used by governments and other stakeholders to create plans to implement many of the actions identified in this strategy. The action plans would include timelines and indicators to measure effectiveness in achieving the objectives of this Strategy. Local government, coastal communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and marine industries will play an important role in implementing on-ground actions to reduce lionfish impacts and enhance the resilience of reefs in the Wider Caribbean region.
Biotic resistance, the process by which new colonists are excluded from a community by predation from and/or competition with resident species, can prevent or limit species invasions. We examined whether biotic resistance by native predators on Caribbean coral reefs has influenced the invasion success of red lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles), piscivores from the Indo-Pacific. Specifically, we surveyed the abundance (density and biomass) of lionfish and native predatory fishes that could interact with lionfish (either through predation or competition) on 71 reefs in three biogeographic regions of the Caribbean. We recorded protection status of the reefs, and abiotic variables including depth, habitat type, and wind/wave exposure at each site. We found no relationship between the density or biomass of lionfish and that of native predators. However, lionfish densities were significantly lower on windward sites, potentially because of habitat preferences, and in marine protected areas, most likely because of ongoing removal efforts by reserve managers. Our results suggest that interactions with native predators do not influence the colonization or post-establishment population density of invasive lionfish on Caribbean reefs.
Species invasions have a range of negative effects on recipient ecosystems, and many occur at a scale and magnitude that preclude complete eradication. When complete extirpation is unlikely with available management resources, an effective strategy may be to suppress invasive populations below levels predicted to cause undesirable ecological change. We illustrate this approach by developing and testing targets for the control of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) on Western Atlantic coral reefs. We first developed a size-structured simulation model of predation by lionfish on native fish communities, which we used to predict threshold densities of lionfish beyond which native fish biomass should decline. We then tested our predictions by experimentally manipulating lionfish densities above or below reef-specific thresholds, and monitoring the consequences for native fish populations on 24 Bahamian patch reefs over 18 months. We found that reducing lionfish below predicted threshold densities effectively protected native fish community biomass from predation-induced declines. Reductions in density of 75- 95%, depending on the reef, were required to suppress lionfish below levels predicted to over-consume prey. On reefs where lionfish were kept below threshold densities, native prey fish biomass increased by 50-70%. Gains in small (<6cm) size classes of native fishes translated into lagged increases in larger size classes over time. The biomass of larger individuals (>15cm total length), including ecologically important grazers and economically important fisheries species, had increased by 10-65% by the end of the experiment.
Crucially, similar gains in prey fish biomass were realized on reefs subjected to partial and full removal of lionfish, but partial removals took 30% less time to implement. By contrast, the biomass of small native fishes declined by more than 50% on all reefs with lionfish densities exceeding reef-specific thresholds. Large inter-reef variation in the biomass of prey fishes at the outset of the study, which influences the threshold density of lionfish, means that we could not identify a single rule-of-thumb for guiding control efforts. However, our model provides a method for setting reef-specific targets for population control using local monitoring data. Our work is the first to demonstrate that for ongoing invasions, suppressing invaders below densities that cause environmental harm can have a similar effect, in terms of protecting the native ecosystem on a local scale, to achieving complete eradication.
Over the past decade, Indo-Pacific lionfishes, Pterois volitans (Linnaeus, 1758) and Pterois miles (Bennett, 1828), venomous members of the scorpionfish family (Scorpaenidae), 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. We document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys using multiple long-term data sets that include both pre- and post-invasion sampling. Our 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 those used in this study will be essential to document ecosystem changes that may result from this invasion.
Lionfish, Pterois volitans and P. miles, are native to the Indo-Pacific and have recently invaded the Western Atlantic Ocean. Strategies for control of this invasion have included limited removal programs and promotion of lionfish consumption at both local and commercial scales. We demonstrate that lionfish meat contains higher levels of healthy n-3 fatty acids than some frequently consumed native marine fish species. Mean lionfish fillet yield was 30.5% of the total body wet weight, a value that is similar to that of some grouper and porgy species. A sensory evaluation indicated that lionfish meet the acceptability threshold of most consumers.