Invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) feeding ecology in Biscayne National Park, Florida, USA.
Indo-Pacific Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) are venomous marine fishes in the family Scorpaenidae that invaded the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and western North Atlantic Ocean beginning in the mid-1980s. Lionfish are generalist, opportunistic predators that consume a variety of invertebrates and small reef fishes, such that the presence of Lionfish can significantly reduce reef fish abundance, diversity, and recruitment on invaded reefs. This study focused on the feeding ecology of Lionfish in Biscayne National Park (BNP), located in southeast Florida, USA. BNP consists of multiple marine habitats, including mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and limestone keys that support a diverse array of species resulting in multi-million dollar fishing and tourism industries. These habitats within BNP are at risk from the predatory impacts of invasive Lionfish. Through morphological prey identification of stomach contents, supplemented with DNA barcoding for identification of highly-digested prey items, Lionfish diet was analyzed and compared among fish sizes (immature, transitional and mature), BNP region (bay, shelf, and edge), and seasons (wet and dry). A total of 513 stomachs, containing more than 2600 prey items, were examined. We report that Lionfish in BNP fed predominantly on small reef fishes and small crustaceans, with a dietary shift from crustaceans to fishes occurring with increasing Lionfish size. Diets differed among BNP regions for medium-sized (100-179 mm) transitional Lionfish but not for large-sized (≥180 mm) mature individuals. Furthermore, dietary differences between seasons were observed in mature Lionfish, but no seasonal differences were detected for smaller Lionfish (i.e., immature and transitional Lionfish). Based on the diet habits observed, Lionfish in BNP could have significant ecological and economic consequences for BNP and south Florida coastal habitats.