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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 673:117-134 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13818

Broad-scale acoustic telemetry reveals long-distance movements and large home ranges for invasive lionfish on Atlantic coral reefs

Stephanie J. Green1,*, Jordan K. Matley2, D. Elizabeth Smith3, Bernard Castillo II3, John L. Akins4,5, Richard S. Nemeth6, Clayton Pollock7, Kynoch Reale-Munroe3

1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2R3, Canada
2Department of Aquatic Resources, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS B2G 2W5, Canada
3College of Science & Mathematics, University of the Virgin Islands, RR1 Box 10000, St. Croix, USVI 00850
4Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Key Largo, Florida 33037, USA
5Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, Miami, Florida 33132, USA
6Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, University of the Virgin Islands, 2 John Brewers Bay, St. Thomas, USVI 00802
7National Parks Service, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Christiansted, St. Croix, USVI 008020-4611
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Tracking studies for invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) in the Western Atlantic can provide key information on habitat use to inform population control, but to date have likely underestimated home range size and movement due to constrained spatial and temporal scales. We tracked 35 acoustically tagged lionfish for >1 yr (March 2018-May 2019) within a 35 km2 acoustic array in Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands (an area 10× larger than previous studies). Tracking lionfish at this scale revealed that home range size is 3-20 times larger than previously estimated and varies more than 8-fold across individuals (~48000-379000 m2; average: 101000 m2), with estimates insensitive to assumptions about potential mortality for low-movement individuals. Lionfish move far greater distances than previously reported, with 37% of fish traveling >1 km from the initial tagging site toward deeper habitats, and 1 individual moving ~10 km during a 10 d period. Movement rates, home range size, and maximum distance traveled were not related to lionfish size (18-35 cm total length) or lunar phase. Lionfish movement was lowest at night and greatest during crepuscular periods, with fish acceleration (m s-2) increasing with water temperature during these times. Our results help reconcile observed patterns of rapid recolonization following lionfish removal, and suggest complex drivers likely result in highly variable patterns of movement for similarly sized fish occupying the same habitat. Culling areas ≥ the average lionfish home range size identified here (i.e. ~10 ha) or habitat patches isolated by ≥ ~180 m (radius of average home range) may minimize subsequent recolonization. If the shallow-deep long-distance movements observed here are unidirectional, mesophotic habitats may require culling at relatively greater frequencies to counteract ongoing migration.


KEY WORDS: Animal movement · Home range size · Habitat use · Acoustic telemetry · Invasive species · Population control · Marine conservation


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Cite this article as: Green SJ, Matley JK, Smith DE, Castillo B II and others (2021) Broad-scale acoustic telemetry reveals long-distance movements and large home ranges for invasive lionfish on Atlantic coral reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 673:117-134. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13818

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