Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The lion’s new den: this poisonous fish is moving into the mediterranean

A lionfish (Pterois miles) hunts for food A lionfish (Pterois miles) hunts for food Laura d/Shutterstock
06 Oct
2016
New research finds population levels of invasive lionfish are exploding across the Mediterranean

Marine biologists and divers familiar with the Caribbean and western Atlantic will know all about the problems caused by invasive lionfish (Pterois miles). Far from their native home in the Indian Ocean, a few individuals were infamously released (whether accidentally or intentionally is still up for debate) off the coast of Florida in the early 1990s. Within a decade they were fully established across most of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Eradicating lionfish from this part of the world has become a priority for restoring the health of the regional marine ecosystem.

Braving deep into territory in which many believed they wouldn’t be able to survive, lionfish are now being discovered in increasing numbers in the Mediterranean. ‘The lionfish are expanding fast,’ says Demetris Kletou, Director of the Marine and Environmental Research Lab, a marine environmental consultancy based in Cyprus. ‘Last I heard, they have reached Tunisia.’

Prey is naïve and doesn’t recognise lionfish as a potential predator. It is also possible that potential predators do not recognise lionfish as prey

Kletou and colleagues, working alongside the School of Marine Science and Engineering at Plymouth University, have published their latest research, in which they found this alien and highly venomous species to be rapidly colonising the eastern Mediterranean. Both sea surface warming and the recent expansion of the Suez Canal have allowed the lionfish to colonise almost the entire southeastern coast of Cyprus in just one year.

‘Prey is naïve and doesn’t recognise lionfish as a potential predator,’ explains Kletou. ‘It is also possible that potential predators do not recognise lionfish as prey.’ With this Darwinian advantage, combined with high ecosystem versatility and fast reproductive rates (they spawn every four days, producing around two million buoyant gelatinous eggs per year), lionfish populations are able to grow extremely rapidly. This could lead to a devastating decline of local prey in the Mediterranean, as well as of other local predators who lose out through increased competition for food.

‘These impacts may also be felt by the fisheries and tourist sector,’ adds Kletou. ‘Incidences where naïve divers get stung by its toxic spines may also happen.’ He encourages rapid, targeted removal of the fish to try and stop the spread before it gets completely out of control.

This was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

James Wallace, Chief Executive of Beaver Trust, shares an unlikely…

Wildlife

The winners of the most hotly anticipated photography competition have…

Polar

Artist and geographer Nick Jones was appointed artist in residence…

Oceans

Photojournalist Tommy Trenchard joins a research expedition to the Saya…

Climate

So far, carbon offsets have focused mostly on tree-planting. But…

Oceans

Marine scientists are often too few and too underfunded to…

Wildlife

Indigenous marmosets are under threat from released pets and forest fragmentation

Wildlife

A rare encounter with a leopard in the mountains of…

Oceans

The Saildrone Surveyor, a type of uncrewed autonomous vehicle, has…

Climate

Australia has the highest per-capita use of rooftop solar power…

Wildlife

Ecoacoustics – a way to listen in closely to the…

Wildlife

Ash dieback is set to transform the British landscape. Robert…

Geophoto

Photographer Patrick Wack documents documents changes in the Chinese province 

Climate

A growing tide of legal action is increasing pressure on…

Wildlife

Classifying a group of organisms as a separate species has…

Geophoto

Artist Sarah Gillespie used the historic mezzotint technique for her…

Geophoto

The winners of the 2021 competition of Earth Photo have…

Climate

As climate change dysregulates weather patterns, cases of pest explosions…

Polar

Arctic nations are gearing up to exploit the region’s abundant natural…