Aggregating behaviour in invasive Caribbean lionfish is driven by habitat complexity

Hunt, Christina L.; Kelly, George R.; Windmill, Hannah; Curtis-Quick, Jocelyn; Conlon, Helen; Bodmer, Max D. V.; Rogers, Alex D. and Exton, Dan A. (2019). Aggregating behaviour in invasive Caribbean lionfish is driven by habitat complexity. Scientific Reports, 9(1)



Caribbean lionfish (Pterois spp.) are considered the most heavily impacting invasive marine vertebrate ever recorded. However, current management is largely inadequate, relying on opportunistic culling by recreational SCUBA divers. Culling efficiency could be greatly improved by exploiting natural aggregations, but to date this behaviour has only been recorded anecdotally, and the drivers are unknown. We found aggregations to be common in situ, but detected no conspecific attraction through visual or olfactory cues in laboratory experiments. Aggregating individuals were on average larger, but showed no further differences in morphology or life history. However, using visual assessments and 3D modelling we show lionfish prefer broad-scale, but avoid fine-scale, habitat complexity. We therefore suggest that lionfish aggregations are coincidental based on individuals’ mutual attraction to similar reef structure to maximise hunting efficiency. Using this knowledge, artificial aggregation devices might be developed to concentrate lionfish densities and thus improve culling efficiency.

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