Marine Science Faculty Publications

Predicting Impacts of Lionfish (Pterois volitans) Invasion in a Coastal Ecosystem of Southern Brazil

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Invasive species, Pterois volitans, Food web modelling, Vulnerability settings, Paraná coast

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The opportunistic feeder Pterois volitans is a voracious invader, causing large impacts in marine food-webs. We have used a Ecopath-with-Ecosim model to hypothesize an invasion by lionfish and to predict the likely impact of this potential generalist mesopredator in a subtropical food-web model. With thirty-three functional groups, the initial Ecopath model was balanced with a low biomass of lionfish (0.07 t/km2). In Ecosim, three scenarios of different vulnerability settings for the linkages between the introduced fish and its prey were tested, representing the default setting, a top-down control, and an extreme top-down control. The scenarios were tested using different assumptions on the ability of the invasive fish to change the proportions of prey consumed according to prey availability. Our model predicted that the hypothesized lionfish invasion would have a strong impact on this subtropical marine food web: (1) by reducing prey populations and, consequently, food for native predators, and; (2) by predating on key species, causing direct impacts and possibly cascading trophic effects. Reef fish were the most affected, including some groups ecologically and economically important, like lutjanids and groupers. However, some adaptations in the fishing strategy of fishermen are expected which may affect other fish groups. Stakeholders should be warned of the potential ecological and socio-economic impacts that may arise from a lionfish invasion and various strategies and policy options should be immediately developed and applied (1) to prevent the arrival and establishment of the lionfish, and; (2) to make the ecosystem more resilient to this and other possible exotic species.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Biological Invasions, v. 20, p. 1257-1274