July 21, 2008

Lionfish Danger to Reef Life, Study Says

Marine species show dismal survival rates when the predatory lionfish swim into their ecosystem, an Oregon State University study indicates.

The study found when lionfish entered an area, survival rates other reef fishes fell by about 80 percent, ScienceDaily.com reported.

The loss of some herbivorous fish permits seaweed potentially to overwhelm coral reefs and disrupt their ecological balance, scientists said.

The study is the first to quantify the severity of the problems presented by the lionfish, native to the Pacific and Indian oceans and having few natural enemies in the Atlantic Ocean, scientists said.

This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and (they're) undergoing a population explosion, said Mark Hixon, an Oregon State professor of zoology and expert on coral reef ecology. The threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. These fish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly.

It is believed that the first lionfish -- known for dramatic coloring and large, spiny fins -- were introduced into waters off Florida in the early 1990s by aquariums or fish hobbyists.