Will Invasive Lionfish Overturn Aquatic Mediterranean Ecosystems?

LionfishScientists have identified an invasive species of lionfish is becoming more prolific in the Mediterranean waterways.  Apparently, the warmer temperatures around the Suez canal have motivated these normally Atlantic ocean dwelling creatures to move further inland.  Obviously, this can upset the local ecosystem in terms of food supply, but these animals are also predatory and that can completely disrupt the whole of the food chain in that region.

The alien lionfish population—which scientists have now taken to calling Pterois miles—has already invaded the Western Atlantic (since the 1990s) so there is a chance the organism will continue to expand its habitat.  With the waters of the Mediterranean sea getting warmer it is certainly encouraging to fish like these.

According to study author Demetris Kletou, of the Limassol, Cyprus Environmental Research Lab, “Until now, few sightings of the alien lionfish Pterois miles have been reported in the Mediterranean and it was questionable whether the species could invade this region like it has in the western Atlantic.”

He goes on to say, “But we’ve found that lionfish have recently increased in abundance, and within a year have colonised almost the entire south eastern coast of Cyprus, assisted by sea surface warming.”

Again, these are predatory creatures, carnivores that feast regularly on various types of fish and crustaceans.  And since the female of the species lays eggs every four days or so, they also reproduce very quickly. Basically, when introduced to a new habitat, they reduce biodiversity through predation and then overpopulate.

And they are able to do this because lionfish have poisonous spines on their bodies. This means they are safe from predation but also that other animals trying to defend themselves will likely not be successful.

Indeed, Plymouth University marine biologist Jason Hall-Spencer accounts that lionfish have, in fact, caused “ecological havoc” in the Caribbean, since their first arrival in the western Atlantic region roughly two decades ago. He also notes that these fish will prey on herbivorous fish which would otherwise restrain algal growth.  And that, of course, is also a problem.

He further explains, “Now seaweeds are choking the life out of coral reefs throughout the Caribbean. Part of the problem is that native predatory fish have not learnt how to handle these venomous fish — even sharks avoid them.”

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