Nature reports on a strikingly beautiful – and utterly destructive – invasive critter that’s swept across warm waters from Ft. Lauderdale to Venezuela:
Lionfish have overwhelmed ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean over the past three decades, eating or out-competing native species in what has been called the worst marine invasion ever. Now the fish seem to have extended their range to South America.
Researchers reported the first confirmed lionfish in Brazilian waters on 22 April in PLoS ONE. The piscine pioneer was spotted by a group of recreational divers on 10 May 2014 in a reef off Cabo Frio, a municipality of Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil. The divers returned to the site the next day with hand spears, and captured the fish so that scientists could study it.
When the researchers analysed the fish’s DNA, they found that it matched the genetic signature of the Caribbean lionfish population, and not that of specimens from their native Indo-Pacific region. This suggests that the fish may have reached Brazil through natural larval dispersal from the Caribbean, the study’s authors say.
Other marine biologists say the currents make that unlikely – and maybe the Brazilian lionfish are just more pets that got released into the wild by people who just didn’t get it.