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Stable isotope analysis of eye lenses from invasive lionfish yields record of resource use

Joseph S. Curtis*, Mark A. Albins, Ernst B. Peebles, Christopher D. Stallings

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Patterns of stable isotopes recorded in metabolically stable, serially synthesized structures such as eye lenses can yield robust descriptions of resource use across the life histories of individual fish. We performed stable isotope analysis of eye lenses sampled from invasive lionfishes Pterois spp. and a potentially competitive native mesopredator, the graysby Cephalopholis cruentata, to compare lifelong patterns of trophic resource use on a coral-reef ledge in Biscayne National Park, Florida, USA. In both lionfishes and graysby, stable isotope values increased logarithmically with eye-lens radius, likely reflecting increases in trophic position with growth. Tissue samples toward the interior of the lens were the most isotopically similar between lionfish and graysby, suggesting interspecific resource-use overlap may be strongest in smaller fish. We observed substantial variation in isotopic chronologies around the underlying logarithmic trend within individual fish, potentially driven by patterns of movement across measured environmental isotopic gradients, intraspecific variation in resource-use specificity, or other ecological variables of interest. These results are the first to describe patterns of size-structured resource use across the life of individual lionfish, an important objective for researchers studying the interactions of this highly invasive species with surrounding ecological communities. Additionally, through this example, we illustrate analytical approaches and considerations for the application of eye-lens stable isotope analysis to the study of vertebrate ecology.