Aim Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) are popular ornamental fishes native to the Indo-Pacific that were introduced into Florida waters and are rapidly spreading and establishing throughout the Western Atlantic (WA). Although unfortunate, this invasion provides an excellent system in which to test hypotheses on conservation biology and marine biogeography. The goals of this study are: (1) to document the geographical extent of P. volitans and P. miles; (2) to determine whether the progression of the lionfish invasion is the result of expansion following the initial introduction event or the consequence of multiple introductions at various WA locations; and (3) to analyse the chronology of the invasion in conjunction with the genetic data in order to provide real-time assessments of hypotheses of marine biogeography.
Location The Greater Caribbean, including the US east coast, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean Sea.
Methods Mitochondrial control region sequences were obtained from lionfish individuals collected from Bermuda and three Caribbean locations and analysed in conjunction with previously published data from five native and two non-native locations (US east coast and the Bahamas; a total of six WA locations). Genetic variation within and among groups was quantified, and population structure inferred via spatial analyses of molecular variance, pairwise ΦST, exact tests, Mantel tests and haplotype networks.
Results Mitochondrial DNA screening of WA lionfish shows that while P. miles is restricted to the northernmost locations (Bermuda and the US east coast), P. volitans is ubiquitous and much more abundant. Invasive populations of P. miles and P. volitans have significantly lower levels of genetic diversity relative to their native counterparts, confirming that their introduction resulted in a strong founder effect. Despite the relative genetic homogeneity across the six WA locations, population structure analyses of P. volitans indicate significant differentiation between the northern (US east coast, the Bahamas and Bermuda) and the Caribbean populations.
Main conclusions Our findings suggest that the ubiquity of WA lionfish is the result of dispersal from a single source of introduction in Florida and not of multiple independent introductions across the range. In addition, the progression of the lionfish invasion (as documented from sightings), integrated with the genetic evidence, provides support for five of six major scenarios of connectivity and phylogeographical breaks previously inferred for Caribbean organisms.