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July 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Are Lionfish Hunts Making It Harder to Kill Them?

from the July, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Given the Caribbean and Atlantic invasion by the Indo-Pacific lionfish, dive operators generally consider it a good idea to huntdown and kill this serious predator to preserve indigenous creatures. However, what if those repeated hunts are actually influencing lionfish behavior, making the species harder to find and kill off? Research published in the online journal PLOS One in April suggests just that.

esearchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia compared how lionfish act if they lived in an area where spear-based culling had occurred to lionfish living in areas where no such hunts had taken place. The 16 coral reef patches were all in the Bahamas. On eight of those patches, divers had been culling the lionfish with three-prong pole spears every three or six months for two years. On culled reefs, a lower proportion of the fish were active during the day, and they hid themselves much more carefully as well. The investigators assigned a "hiding score" to the fish based on certain behaviors; half of the lionfish on culled reefs achieved the highest such score, compared to only 19 percent of those on the unculled reefs. This suggests, of course, that if a lionfish survives a cull, it becomes more likely to survive the next one as well. It is, in a sense, a very rapid form of natural selection....

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