The international research team looked at whether native reef predators such as sharks and groupers could help control the population growth of red lionfish in the Caribbean, either by eating them or out-competing them for prey. They also wanted to evaluate scientifically whether, as some speculate, that overfishing of reef predators had allowed the lionfish population to grow unchecked.
The team surveyed 71 reefs, in three different regions of the Caribbean, over three years. Their results indicate there is no relationship between the density of lionfish and that of native predators, suggesting that, "interactions with native predators do not influence" the number of lionfish in those areas, the study said.
The researchers did find that lionfish populations were lower in protected reefs, attributing that to targeted removal by reef managers, rather than consumption by large fishes in the protected areas. Hackerott noted that during 2013 reef surveys, there appeared to be fewer lionfish on popular dive sites in Belize, where divers and reef managers remove lionfish daily.
The researchers support restoration of large-reef predators as a way to achieve better balance and biodiversity, but they are not optimistic that this would affect the burgeoning lionfish population.
"Active and direct management, perhaps in the form of sustained culling, appears to be essential to curbing local lionfish abundance and efforts to promote such activities should be encouraged," the study concluded.
|Contact: Kathy Neal|
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill