TitleDensity-Dependent Growth in Invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsBenkwitt, CE
JournalPlos One
Keywordsreef fish communities population regulation life-history mortality predation consequences scale river spp.

Direct demographic density dependence is necessary for population regulation and is a central concept in ecology, yet has not been studied in many invasive species, including any invasive marine fish. The red lionfish (Pterois volitans) is an invasive predatory marine fish that is undergoing exponential population growth throughout the tropical western Atlantic. Invasive lionfish threaten coral-reef ecosystems, but there is currently no evidence of any natural population control. Therefore, a manipulative field experiment was conducted to test for density dependence in lionfish. Juvenile lionfish densities were adjusted on small reefs and several demographic rates (growth, recruitment, immigration, and loss) were measured throughout an 8-week period. Invasive lionfish exhibited direct density dependence in individual growth rates, as lionfish grew slower at higher densities throughout the study. Individual growth in length declined linearly with increasing lionfish density, while growth in mass declined exponentially with increasing density. There was no evidence, however, for density dependence in recruitment, immigration, or loss (mortality plus emigration) of invasive lionfish. The observed density-dependent growth rates may have implications for which native species are susceptible to lionfish predation, as the size and type of prey that lionfish consume is directly related to their body size. The absence of density-dependent loss, however, contrasts with many native coral-reef fish species and suggests that for the foreseeable future manual removals may be the only effective local control of this invasion.