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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 283:269-278 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps283269

Thermal tolerance and potential distribution of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles complex) on the east coast of the United States

Matthew E. Kimball1,2,3, John M. Miller2, Paula E. Whitfield1, Jonathan A. Hare1,*

1Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, NOAA Beaufort Laboratory, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA 2Department of Zoology, Campus Box 7617, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-7617, USA 3Present address: Rutgers University Marine Field Station, 800 c/o 132 Great Bay Boulevard, Tuckerton, New Jersey 08087-2004, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: The occurrence of lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) complex on the southeast United States shelf represents one of the first documented invasions of a Pacific marine fish species into the western Atlantic Ocean. Temperature has been proposed as a possible factor limiting the range of this introduction. To examine this hypothesis, temperature-tolerance studies were conducted following the chronic lethal minimum protocol, with death as the endpoint. Overall, the mean chronic lethal minimum was 10.0°C and mean temperature at feeding cessation was 16.1°C. Rate of temperature decrease and acclimation temperature did not have a significant effect on chronic lethal minimum or temperature at feeding cessation. When combined with mean February water temperatures, lionfish thermal tolerance data indicated that lionfish could overwinter on the southeast United States continental shelf, with a northern limit of Cape Hatteras and an inshore limit coincident with the mean 12°C isotherm, which equates to a 10°C minimum water temperature. The mean 12°C bottom isotherm also runs along the continental shelf break (200 m isobath), marking the offshore limit for lionfish on the southeast United States continental shelf. The current southern limit of the invasion is not bound by temperature, as lionfish could survive (but have not yet been reported) on the Florida coast south of Miami, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, extending into the southern hemisphere. Possible reasons for the constrained southern limit may include planktonic transport mechanisms, patterns of juvenile and adult movements, and the initial lionfish introduction site.

KEY WORDS: Marine introduction · Biological invasion · Lionfish · Pterois volitans · Pterois miles · Invasive species · Species range limits · Temperature tolerance

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