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Coral Reefs, Ecosystem, Gulf of Mexico, Introduced Species, Invasive species, red lionfish, pterois volitans

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Invasive Indo-Pacific red lionfish, Pterois volitans, were first reported in the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGOM) in summer 2010. To examine potential impacts on native reef fish communities, lionfish density and size distributions were estimated from fall 2010 to fall 2013 with a remotely operated vehicle at natural (n = 16) and artificial (n = 22) reef sites. Lionfish (n = 934) also were sampled via spearfishing to examine effects of habitat type, season, and fish size on their diet and trophic ecology. There was an exponential increase in lionfish density at both natural and artificial reefs over the study period. By fall 2013, mean lionfish density at artificial reefs (14.7 fish 100 m(-2)) was two orders of magnitude higher than at natural reefs (0.49 fish 100 m(-2)), and already was among the highest reported in the western Atlantic. Lionfish diet was significantly different among habitats, seasons, and size classes, with smaller (length) fish consuming more benthic invertebrates and the diet of lionfish sampled from artificial reefs being composed predominantly of non-reef associated prey. The ontogenetic shift in lionfish feeding ecology was consistent with δ15N values of white muscle tissue that were positively related to total length. Overall, diet results indicate lionfish are generalist mesopredators in the nGOM that become more piscivorous at larger size. However, lionfish diet was much more varied at artificial reef sites where they clearly were foraging on open substrates away from reef structure. These results have important implications for tracking the lionfish invasion in the nGOM, as well as estimating potential direct and indirect impacts on native reef fish communities in this region.

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PLoS One, v. 9, issue 8, art. e105852