Lionfish Eat More in Warm Water
Lionfish can eat more in warmer waters - not good news in the battle to halt the invasion of these voracious predators in the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean as global warming drives up water temperatures.
A study carried out in The Bahamas found that lionfish are able to eat 42 per cent more food during peak summer temperatures (32ºC) compared to winter sea temperatures (26ºC).
The research, published this week in the Journal of Experimental Biology, by Clay Steell, from Canada's Carleton University, also indicates that lionfish are remarkably efficient eating machines and use far more of their energy on prey consumption compared with most fish - a probable reason why they are such a successful species in invading new habitats.
Fish typically expend the greatest amount of energy on swimming. But lionfish direct more of their energy into eating, and, the study establishes, are able to break their food down quicker in warmer temperatures.
Lionfish have spread rapidly from their native Indo-Pacific home to the Caribbean and as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Brazil in the Atlantic. They are also making significant inroads into the eastern Mediterranean. It is assumed they spread from the Gulf of Mexico after specimens were released into the wild from aquariums. In the Mediterranean, their spread from the Red Sea may well be caused by the impact of rising sea temperatures.
They cause extensive environmental and economic damage as they ravage fish stocks in these new territories. Lionfish are known to consume a staggering 70 different species of fish and many invertebrate species such as shrimp and crabs. A study in Bermuda showed that they can reduce juvenile fish populations on a reef by 90 per cent in as little as five weeks.
To make matters worse they are also prolific breeders - they reach sexual maturity relatively young at less than a year old and a single female lionfish can spawn more than two million eggs a year.
'They are a really big threat to marine ecosystems and animals,' Steell said. 'Wherever they go there are less healthy fisheries, less for tourists to see.'