A recap of what we've learned about invasive Lionfish this month (none of it good)
Hey Florida: It's not entirely your fault
An United States Geological Survey genetic analysis revealed that invasive lionfish may have had multiple points of origin, not just from Florida as previously believed. According to the USGS: "Researchers found that unique regional genetic patterns separated the studied area into northern and southern regions, with the split occurring near the Bahamas. Given the regional genetic differences revealed in this study, the researchers now suspect multiple introductions. One rare genetic strain was found in only a few samples in the southern region, but was pervasive in the north."
Nearly pole to pole
The range of the invasion has vastly increased. A group of researchers, including Dr. Luiz Rocha and scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, verified reports by recreational divers that the Indo-Pacific lionfish was sighted as far south as southeastern Brazil. That's a distance of approximately 4,000 miles from Florida! Lionfish have been spotted as far north as Maine, so with the recent verification of lionfish in Brazil, it's only a short matter of time when this invasive species is reported on nearly the entire east coast of North and South America. Truly frightening!
Their study was published in PLOS ONE.
What are these lionfish eating?
In a separate study led by California Academy of Sciences, autopsies of invasive lionfish reveal what they've been eating. Labrids (wrasses), including critically endangered social wrasses (Halichoeres socialis), constitute the vast majority of lionfish predation. Gobies, basslets, blennies, cardinalfish, damsels, et al. were also discovered in the stomachs of lionfish.
Previous studies have shown that lionfish are scary eating machines in the Atlantic. They can decimate upwards of 80% of local fish populations after a few years. Studies have even shown that lionfish are so successful at consuming Atlantic fish (who haven't evolved to recognize lionfish as threats) that many specimens are obese with so much fat that they are suffering liver damage.