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Genes for Successful Invasive Species

Researchers from North Carolina State University are studying the red lionfish genome to look for genes that might contribute to its success as an invasive species.

Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) were likely introduced to the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1980s, where they are classified as a voracious predator that reproduces rapidly, as compared to its more secretive lifestyle in its native Pacific Ocean. The NC State team collected red lionfish samples from five sites in its introduced range and two sites in its native range for genetic sequence analysis.

As they report in the journal Biological Invasions, the researchers found that one of its Atlantic Ocean samples appeared genetically similar to a Pacific Ocean one, suggesting that they may have originated from near Taiwan. They also note that the Atlantic Ocean red lionfish did not appear to be hybrids with the devil fire fish P. miles, and that they uncovered signatures of selection within the introduced fish.

The researchers say that studying lionfish may help them understand other invasive species events as well. "Some of these invaders rapidly adapt to new surroundings. What are the genes that allow them to successfully invade?" first author Martha Burford Reiskind from NC State says in a statement. "Can we make better predictions so that invasive species like P. volitans are eradicated before it's too late?"