Member Highlight: A Team Tackles A Troublesome Fish

2018-03-26T11:04:11+00:00 March 19, 2018|
(Credit: Steve Gittings, NOAA)

(Credit: Steve Gittings, NOAA)

It is often said that good things come in groups of three, and that might be the case for a trio of research projects aimed at reducing a recent, but growing, threat to Bermuda’s marine biodiversity: the invasive lionfish.

(From Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences) — While many invasive species disrupt natural ecosystems by spreading disease or competing for food and habitat, lionfish are particularly problematic owing to their voracious appetites and high reproductive capacities. Lionfish are indiscriminate predators, feeding on over 70 species of fish, invertebrates, and mollusks, and a single lionfish can eat 30 times its stomach volume in one meal.

Additionally, each female lionfish can produce more than two million eggs each year during her average 16-year lifespan, making lionfish a significant threat to native fishes and reef systems throughout the Caribbean and Western Atlantic Ocean, including Bermuda.

In a multi-pronged effort to address this issue, local organizations—including the Ocean Support FoundationGroundswell, and the Bermuda Lionfish Taskforce—have individually and collectively engaged in projects to educate the public and promote the active removal of lionfish. However, much remains unknown about how lionfish are distributed in Bermuda’s marine environment, as well as what methods of removal are most effective at preserving biodiversity and preventing lionfish recolonization.

Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley is a reef ecologist at BIOS whose current research projects include studying the ecological impacts of the invasive lionfish, with a particular focus on mesophotic reefs, which grow at depths between 98 to 492 feet (30 to 150 meters). Last September Goodbody-Gringley and research specialist Tim Noyes in the BIOS Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Lab received funding from the BEST 2.0 Programme (part of the European Union Biodiversity for Life flagship) to demonstrate the impacts of targeted lionfish removal on local reef fish populations.

For six months, Goodbody-Gringley and Noyes surveyed fish populations and lionfish densities at three mesophotic reef sites in Bermuda. They then speared the lionfish to remove them from the reef and collect biological samples, such as clips of fin tissue, which are used to study lionfish population genetics. By comparing the fish communities at these three survey sites to “control” sites, where no lionfish were removed, the team hopes to shed light on how native fish populations respond to targeted lionfish culling.

“Results from this study can be used to guide future management and control plans, in terms of how much effort is required and what types of methods must be employed in order to have an impact,” Goodbody-Gringley said.

Late last year, around the same time fieldwork concluded on the lionfish removal project, Noyes, Goodbody-Gringley, and BIOS molecular ecologist Leocadio Blanco-Bercial received word that BEST 2.0 funded a separate, yet complementary, project. This new project aims to determine…

Read the full article here: