background image

Highlight: Lionfish Invasion!

Mark Albins conducting underwater Lionfish researchInvasion of Atlantic Coral Reefs by Pacific Lionfish

In 2007, our long-term research on the ecology of coral-reef fishes in the Bahamas was interrupted by a population explosion of invasive Pacific lionfish. Protected by cryptic color and form, as well as by venomous spines, these voracious predators of small fish and other reef animals had been introduced to the Atlantic, probably as a result of aquarium releases in the early 1990s.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, my lab is actively studying this invasion, focusing mostly on the ecological effects of lionfish on Atlantic coral-reefs ecosystems.  Our first field experiment, conducted by Ph.D. student Mark Albins (left), demonstrated that a single lionfish can reduce recruitment of native fishes on a small coral patch reef by about 80% is just 5 weeks (Albins & Hixon 2008). To the extent that such effects are typical, this could very well become the most disastrous marine invasion in history (Albins & Hixon 2013).

An important recent finding is that raw lionfish (and scorpionfishes in general) may give false positive tests for ciguatera (a kind of fish poisoning) (Wilcox & Hixon 2014).  If so, then efforts to control the invasion by eating lionfish via community derbies and targeted fisheries may be unnecessarily impeded.  The easy solution is to test for ciguatera after the fish is cooked, which prevents false positive tests.

--To read more about the invasion in Science magazine, click here.
--To read more about the invasion in Reader's Digest magazine, click here.
--To read more about the invasion on the Oregon State University web page, click here.
--To view an Associated Press TV video about the invasion, click here.
--To view Dr. Hixon's TED Youth talk about the invasion, click here or see below.
--To view PhD students Mark Albins and Tim Pusack in "Invasion of the Alien Fish," click here.
--To view other news about the lionfish invasion, please use the "Press" menu (left side of page)
--To download our scientific publications, please scroll down this page.

A coral reef in the Bahamas before and after the lionfish invasion (1-min video by Mark Albins, Oregon State University):

Invader (2 min)
video accompanying Reader's Digest article (April 2010):
[Many thanks to journalist Robert Kiener!]

The World In Our Grasp: How Will You Prevent An Alien Invasion? (13 min)
TEDxYouth, San Deigo (November 2011):   [Many thanks for allowing use of your fabulous images and videos:  Antonio Busiello, Tom Fitz, David Hall, and Ziggy Livnat!]



COMING IN WINTER 2013:  "Scourge of the Lionfish" episode of "Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina" on PBS TV:  On location at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Bahamas, with (L to R) cameraman Dan Lyons, diving technician Nick Poole, soundman Tim Wessel, Mark Hixon, and host Carl Safina (photo by Executive Producer and Director John Angier):
PBS lionfish shoot

Albins 2012  Albins, M.A.  2012.  Effects of invasive Pacific red lionfish Pterois volitans versus a native predator on Bahamian coral-reef fish communities.  Biological Invasions, Online First.  DOI:  10.1007/s10530-012-0266-1.

  Albins, M.A., and M.A. Hixon.  2008.  Invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) reduce recruitment of Atlantic coral-reef fishes.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 367:233-238.  [reviewed in "News in Brief" column of Nature (2008) 454:265]

Albins & Lyons 2012  Albins, M.A., and P.J. Lyons.  2012.  Invasive red lionfish Pterois volitans blow directed jets of water at prey fish.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 448:1-5.

Kulbicki et al 12  Kulbicki, M., J. Beets, P. Chabanet, K. Cure, E. Darling, S. Floeter, R. Galzin, A. Green, M. Harmelin-Vivien, M. Hixon, Y. Letourneur, T. Lison de Loma, T. McClanahan, J. McIlwain, G. MouTham, R. Myers, J. O’Leary, S. Planes, V. L., and W. L. 2012. Distributions of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois spp.) in their native ranges: implications for the Atlantic invasion. Marine Ecology Progress Series 446:189-205.

Cure et al 12 MEPS  Cure, K., C.E. Benkwitt, T.L. Kindinger, E.A. Pickering, T.J. Pusack, J.L. McIlwain, and M.A. Hixon.  2012.  Comparative behavior of red lionfish Pterois volitans on native Pacific versus invaded Atlantic coral reefs.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 467:181-192.

Albins 13 Biol Invas

Albins, M.A.  2013.  Effects of invasive Pacific red lionfish Pterois volitans versus a native predator on Bahamian coral-reef fish communities.  Biological Invasions 15:29-43.

Albins & Hixon 13 EBF  Albins, M.A., and M.A. Hixon.  2013.  Worst case scenario: potential long-term effects of invasive predatory lionfish (Pterois volitans) on Atlantic and Caribbean coral-reef communities.  Environmental Biology of Fishes 96:1151-1157.

Benkwitt 13 PLoS One

Benkwitt, C.E.  2013.  Density-dependent growth in invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans).  PLoS One 8(6):e66995.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066995.

Cote et al 13 Biol Cons Côté, I.M., S.J. Green, and M.A. Hixon.  2013.  Predatory fish invaders: insights from Indo-Pacific lionfish in the western Atlantic and Caribbean.  Biological Conservation 164:50-61.  ["Editor's Choice" for free downloading]

Cure et al 14 MEPSCure, K., J.L McIlwain, and M.A. Hixon.  2014.  Habitat plasticity in native Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) facilitates successful invasion of the Atlantic.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 506:243-253.

Hixon & Albins 14 in Ray bookHixon, M.A., and M.A. Albins.  2014.  Invasion of Bahamian coral reefs by predatory Pacific lionfish.  Pages 215-218 in G.C. Ray and J. McCormick-Ray.  Marine Conservation: Science, Policy, and Management.  Wiley-Blackwell; West Sussex, UK.

Kindinger in press EBFKindinger, T.L.  2014.  Behavioral response of native Atlantic territorial three spot damselfish (Stegastes planifrons) toward invasive Pacific red lionfish (Pterois volitans).  Environmental Biology of Fishes, DOI 10.1007/s10641-014-0279-y.

Raymond et al in press EBFRaymond, W.W., M.A. Albins, and T.J. Pusack.  2014.  Competitive interactions for shelter between invasive Pacific red lionfish and native Nassau grouper.  Environmental Biology of Fishes, DOI 10.1007/s10641-014-0236-9.

Sikkel et al 14 PLoS OneSikkel, P.C., L.J. Tuttle, K. Cure, A.M. Coile, and M.A. Hixon.  2014.  Low susceptibility of invasive red lionfish (Pterois volitans) to a generalist ectoparasite in both its introduced and native ranges.  PLoS One 9(5):e95854.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095854.

Wilcox & Hixon 2014Wilcox, C.L., and M.A.Hixon.  2014.  False positive tests for ciguatera may derail efforts to control invasive lionfish.  Environmental Biology of Fishes, DOI 10.1007/s10641-014-0313-0.

Lionfish invasion poster:

lionfish invasion poster

For KIDS, click here for the "I Am The Lionfish" music video, by Kathy Cure!

For other accurate information about the lionfish invasion, we recommend these links:
     NOAA Lionfish Program
     NPS Lionfish Web Page
     REEF Lionfish Research Program
     USGS Lionfish Invasion Web Page

 NSF LogoOur research is generously funded by the National Science Foundation.