The lionfish Pterois sp. invasion: has the worst-case scenario come to pass?
This review revisits the traits thought to have contributed to the success of Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois sp. as an invader in the western Atlantic Ocean and the worst-case scenario about their potential ecological effects in light of the more than 150 studies conducted in the past 5 years. Fast somatic growth, resistance to parasites, effective anti-predator defences and an ability to circumvent predator recognition mechanisms by prey have probably contributed to rapid population increases of lionfish in the invaded range. However, evidence that lionfish are strong competitors is still ambiguous, in part because demonstrating competition is challenging. Geographic spread has likely been facilitated by the remarkable capacity of lionfish for prolonged fasting in combination with other broad physiological tolerances. Lionfish have had a large detrimental effect on native reef-fish populations in the northern part of the invaded range, but similar effects have yet to be seen in the southern Caribbean. Most other envisaged direct and indirect consequences of lionfish predation and competition, even those that might have been expected to occur rapidly, such as shifts in benthic composition, have yet to be realized. Lionfish populations in some of the first areas invaded have started to decline, perhaps as a result of resource depletion or ongoing fishing and culling, so there is hope that these areas have already experienced the worst of the invasion. In closing, we place lionfish in a broader context and argue that it can serve as a new model to test some fundamental questions in invasion ecology.