Caribbean Mesophotic Coral Reefs and their Stability in Response to the Pacific Lionfish Invasion
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Redfield Auditorium - 12:00 Noon
Dr. Michael P. Lesser
Research Professor of Microbiology, University of New Hampshire
Mesophotic coral reefs (30-150 m) are deep for reef communities that are physically and biologically connected to their shallow-water counterparts and may serve as refugia for important taxonomic groups such as corals, sponges, and fish. The recent invasion of the Indo–Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) in the Bahamas and Caribbean basin has significant, negative, effects on shallow coral reef fish populations. Lionfish have now extended their habitat range into the mesophotic zone down to 91 m where they have reduced the diversity of several important fish guilds. As a result a phase shift to an algal dominated (>50% benthic cover) community at mesophotic depths has resulted in a significant decline in corals and sponges. The changes in benthic community structure caused by the lionfish invasion could not be explained by coral bleaching, overfishing, hurricanes, or disease and the ecological effects of the lionfish invasion into mesophotic coral reefs casts doubt on whether these communities have the resilience to recover themselves, or contribute to the recovery of their shallow water counterparts as refugia for key coral reef taxa.