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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 235:289-297 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps235289

Biological invasion of the Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans along the Atlantic coast of North America

Paula E. Whitfield1,*, Todd Gardner2, Stephen P. Vives3, Matthew R. Gilligan4, Walter R. Courtenay Jr.5, G. Carleton Ray6, Jonathan A. Hare1

1NOAA Beaufort Laboratory, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
2Biology Department, 130 Gittleson Hall, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York 11549-1140, USA
3Department of Biology, Georgia Southern University, PO Box 8042, Statesboro, Georgia 30460-8042, USA
4Marine Science Programs, Savannah State University, PO Box 20467, Savannah, Georgia 31404, USA
5Florida Caribbean Science Center, US Geological Survey, 7920 NW 71st Street, Gainesville, Florida 32653, USA
6Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, 291 McCormick Rd, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904, USA

ABSTRACT: The occurrence of lionfish Pterois volitans is reported from the western Atlantic Ocean. Adults were collected off the coasts of North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and juveniles were collected along the shore of Long Island, New York. They have also been found around Bermuda. Lionfish are indigenous to tropical waters of the western Pacific and their occurrence along the east coast of the United States represents a human-induced introduction. Distribution of adults suggests lionfish are surviving in the western Atlantic and capture of juveniles provides putative evidence of reproduction. The most likely pathway of introduction is aquarium releases, but introduction via ballast water cannot be ruled out. The ecosystem of the southeastern United States continental shelf is already undergoing change: reef fish communities are becoming more tropical and many fish species are overfished. These ongoing changes, along with limited information regarding the biology of P. volitans, make predictions of long-term effects of the introduction difficult. This discovery represents the first, apparently successful introduction, of a marine fish from the western Pacific to Atlantic coastal waters of the United States.

KEY WORDS: Biological invasions · Nonindigenous species · Marine fish · Scorpaenidae · Marine introductions · Lionfish · Pterois volitans · Invasive species · Pteroinae

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