Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Invasive lionfish discovered in Brazil

DNA links specimen to fish population that has spread through Caribbean.
27 April 2015

Lionfish have overwhelmed ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean over the past three decades, eating or out-competing native species in what has been called the worst marine invasion ever. Now the fish seem to have extended their range to South America.

Researchers reported the first confirmed lionfish in Brazilian waters on 22 April in PLoS ONE1. The piscine pioneer was spotted by a group of recreational divers on 10 May 2014 in a reef off Cabo Frio, a municipality of Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil. The divers returned to the site the next day with hand spears, and captured the fish so that scientists could study it.

When the researchers analysed the fish’s DNA, they found that it matched the genetic signature of the Caribbean lionfish population, and not that of specimens from their native Indo-Pacific region. This suggests that the fish may have reached Brazil through natural larval dispersal from the Caribbean, the study’s authors say.

But Mark Hixon, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that ocean currents typically flow in the wrong direction for larval dispersal from the Caribbean to the southeastern Brazilian coast. He says that it is just as likely that the lionfish was brought to Brazil by humans. “Lionfish are easy to capture and make beautiful pets,” says Hixon. “It’s easy to imagine boaters carrying lionfish as short-term pets in bait tanks or other containers on their vessels.”

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