A new study from Carleton University’s Clay Steell and Steven Cooke’s Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Lab is the first to show that invasive lionfish eat more and perform better as the ocean warms with climate change, thanks to a digestive system that likes the heat.

Lionfish have decimated marine ecosystems in the western Atlantic Ocean and eastern Mediterranean Sea by preying upon vulnerable fish and crustaceans. However, their digestive physiology has not been investigated until now. The study found that lionfish invest far more energy into digestion relative to other activities like swimming compared to other fish. This may shed light on why they are such successful invaders.

“Past research has shown that lionfish move into colder waters and eat different prey as the ocean warms,” said Steell. “However, this is the first evidence that a warmer ocean can give them more energy to grow and reproduce. This is because their digestion used 30 per cent less energy at 32°C than at 26°C.”

This energy saving means lionfish can eat larger and more frequent meals in warmer waters, which could amplify their impact on marine ecosystems as sea temperatures rise due to climate change. This knowledge could improve the accuracy of predictions about the impact of climate change on the lionfish invasion, and indicates that existing predictions underestimate the impact of this invasive species.

“This important study not only warns us that the climate crisis could amplify the lionfish, but it also shows how understanding an invasive species’ physiology is key to understanding its impact on the places it invades,” said Steell.

The study, An Appetite for Invasion: Digestive Physiology, Thermal Performance and Food Intake in Lionfish, is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The article can be found here: https://jeb.biologists.org/content/222/19/jeb209437.abstract

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Thursday, October 17, 2019 in
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