WHOI  WHOI People  

Population Genomics of the Rapidly Invading Lionfish, Pterois volitans


Global climate change is affecting species distributions worldwide. Shifts in range boundaries driven by climate change and marine species invasions have been hypothesized to alter the population genomics and thus the critical ability for continued adaptation of species (e.g., Excoffier et al. 2009).  These genomic alterations could have profound implications for the management of marine biodiversity and fisheries. However, the genomic impacts of expansion in any marine species have not been determined. My dissertation focuses on the population genomic impacts of range expansion using two coastal marine invasive species, one of which is the invasive lionfish, Pterois volitans (the focus of this proposal).  We are looking for patterns at the moving edge of expanding ranges and will provide empirical data to evaluate theoretical predictions.

The invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, is unprecedented in both speed, and collateral ecological damage to coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems. First reported in southern Florida in the late 1980s (Morris and Akins 2009), this catastrophic invasion is thought to have originated from a single introduction followed by local population growth, and an immense post-establishment expansion (Betancur et al. 2011).

Our work applies cutting-edge genomic methods to a coastal marine invasive species to better understand if patterns of genetic diversity, genetic drift, and selection predicted in theoretical literature are manifested in an empirical dataset. This work has implications for the future of climate-driven range expansions as well as invasive species genetics. Invasive species genetics has historically focused on detecting multiple introductions, identifying source populations, and understanding invasion pathways. Explicitly addressing the impacts of expansion on invasive species genetics, however, is a long-awaited and highly-desirable development in the field of invasion biology (Geller et al. 2010).  The body of literature focused on empirical genetic consequences of rapid range expansion (multi-decadal time scales) is small but growing. Our work will add to this knowledge base.

The Coastal Ocean Institute funding is assisting us in the procurement of samples from collaborators including the NOAA Lionfish Tissue Repository in Beaufort, North Carolina, and initial sequencing efforts for the portion of our range expansion research focusing on the invasive lionfish, Pterois volitans

Betancur, R, Andrew Hines, P Acero, Guillermo Ortí, Ami E Wilbur, and D Wilson Freshwater.  2011. “Reconstructing the Lionfish Invasion: Insights Into Greater Caribbean Biogeography.” Journal of Biogeography 38(7): 1281–93.

Excoffier, Laurent, Matthieu Foll, and Rémy J Petit. 2009. “Genetic Consequences of Range Expansions.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 40(1): 481–501.

Geller, Jonathan B, John A Darling, and James T Carlton. 2010. “Genetic Perspectives on Marine Biological Invasions.” Annual Review of Marine Science 2(1): 367–93.

Last updated: March 27, 2014