The biology and ecology of the invasive silver-cheeked toadfish (Lagocephalus sceleratus), with emphasis on the eastern Mediterranean.
Invasive species pose threats to either human health or inflict ecological and/or economic damage. The silver-cheeked toadfish (Lagocephalus sceleratus), a Lessepsian species, is one of the most harmful species in the Mediterranean Sea, because of its potent neurotoxin, impacts on marine biodiversity, and the increased costs and labor they inflict on fishers. Since the catch and consumption of this pufferfish is prohibited by almost all countries bordering the Mediterranean, they have now expanded into the entire Mediterranean and Black Sea. We performed a comprehensive study of L. sceleratus covering ecological aspects, growth, reproduction, diet and trophic level based on samples from southwestern coasts of Turkey. The estimated growth parameters were L∞ = 88.7 cm, K = 0.27 year-1, C = 0.6 and WP = 0.1. Their sex-ratio was M/F = 1:0.69. Lagocephalus sceleratus appears to be a batch spawner with discontinuous oocyte recruitment and has different spawning seasons in the Eastern Mediterranean which seem to be based on temperature cues which get shorter in duration as one moves north from the Suez. We also report their first positive ecological trait, that they are controlling some other invasive species through their diets, such as lionfish, Red Sea goatfish, rabbitfish and longspine sea urchins, in addition to controlling themselves through cannibalism, which appears to be density-dependent. They are indeed a top predator in the region with a trophic level of 4.1. We suggest that targeted fishing using improved gear-types to reduce fishing gear damages are initiated, and that finding commercial markets for pufferfish could help to naturally fund ongoing control efforts.