Unveiling the lionfish invasion in the Mediterranean Sea

April 26, 2024

Researchers from Wageningen University & Research have published a comprehensive study on the invasion of lionfish in the Mediterranean Sea, highlighting a rapid spread and the potential ecological impacts.

Published in the open-access journal NeoBiota, the research shows the lionfish Pterois miles has significantly expanded their territory in the Mediterranean since the invasion began around ten years ago. They have established presence in the eastern Mediterranean, with observations now extending to colder waters previously thought to be unsuitable for the species.

Originating from the Indo-Pacific region, these lionfish species are regarded as the most successful invasive fishes in marine ecosystems, with the capacity to drastically affect local fish communities and biodiversity in invaded areas.

Displacement of native species

Lionfish are generalist predators and impact ecosystems by preying extensively on local fishes, including endemics of high conservation value. PhD researcher in behavioural ecology Davide Bottacini has himself studied lionfish for years; “it is impressive to see how such a flamboyant and conspicuous predator can approach their prey without being noticed.” As they are unaccustomed to lionfish, native prey species usually do not flee from this new predator. “I find it really amazing how they can easily adjust to so many different environments. They are successful in regions so different from those, where they originally came from”, Bottacini says.

Davide Bottacini studies lionfish and fish diversity around Cyprus
Davide Bottacini studies lionfish and fish diversity around Cyprus

Access via Suez Canal

As the largest enclosed sea on earth, the Mediterranean is a unique ecosystem. It is a highly biodiverse basin home to more than 11,000 animal species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Genetic studies revealed that lionfish found in the Mediterranean originate from the Red Sea and likely entered through the Suez Canal.

Knowledge gaps mapped: interactions Mediterranean ecosystems

Through a detailed review of existing scientific data, the researchers identified gaps in our understanding of the lionfish's interactions with Mediterranean ecosystems and have proposed future research directions to address these challenges. Such information provides insights vital for biodiversity conservation and will have practical implications for policy makers aiming to devise sound and efficient mitigation plans.

Source: Davide Bottacini
Source: Davide Bottacini

Importance of using citizen knowledge for control measures

The study also highlights the crucial role of citizen science initiatives in tracking and reporting sightings of lionfish, providing valuable data that supports ongoing research efforts. Such community involvement is essential for enhancing understanding of the invasion dynamics and devising effective control measures.