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Keywords:

  • Apex predator;
  • feeding habits;
  • isotopic niche;
  • nursery habitat;
  • predator–prey interactions

Abstract

The Indo-Pacific red lionfish Pterois volitans is widespread both in its native and its non-native habitats. The rapid invasion of this top predator has had a marked negative effect on fish populations in the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean. It is now well documented that lionfish are invading many tropical and sub-tropical habitats. However, there are fewer data available on the change in lionfish abundance over time and the variation of body size and diet across habitats. A recent study in San Salvador, Bahamas, found body size differences between individuals from mangrove and reef systems. That study further suggested that ontogenetic investigation of habitat use patterns could help clarify whether lionfish are using the mangrove areas of San Salvador as nurseries. The aim of the present study is to determine temporal trends in lionfish relative abundance in mangrove and reef systems in San Salvador, and to further assess whether there is evidence suggesting an ontogenetic shift from mangroves to reef areas. Accordingly, we collected lionfish from mangrove and reef habitats and calculated catch per unit effort (a proxy for relative abundance), compared body size distributions across these two systems, and employed a combination of stable isotope, stomach content, and genetic analyses of prey, to evaluate differences in lionfish trophic interactions and habitat use patterns. Our results show that populations may have increased in San Salvador during the last 4 years, and that there is a strong similarity in body size between habitats, stark differences in prey items, and no apparent overlap in the use of habitat and/or food resources. These results suggest that there is not evidence an for ontogenetic shift from mangroves to reefs, and support other studies that propose lionfish are opportunistic forages with little movement across habitats.