Lionfish misidentification circumvents an optimised escape response by prey

McCormick, Mark I., and Allan, Bridie J. (2016) Lionfish misidentification circumvents an optimised escape response by prey. Conservation Physiology, 4. cow064. pp. 1-9.

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Invasive lionfish represent an unprecedented problem in the Caribbean basin, where they are causing major changes to foodwebs and habitats through their generalized predation on fishes and invertebrates. To ascertain what makes the red lionfish (Pterois volitans) such a formidable predator, we examined the reaction of a native damselfish prey, the whitetail damsel (Pomacentrus chrysurus), to a repeatable startle stimulus once they had been forewarned of the sight or smell of lionfish. Faststart responses were compared with prey forewarned of a predatory rockcod (Cephalopholis microprion), a corallivorous butterflyfish (Chaetodon trifasctiatus) and experimental controls. Forewarning of the sight, smell or a combination of the two cues from a rockcod led to reduced escape latencies and higher response distances, speed and maximal speed compared with controls, suggesting that forewarning primed the prey and enabled a more effective escape response. In contrast, forewarning of lionfish did not affect the fast-start kinematics measured, which were the same as in the control and nonpredatory butterflyfish treatments. Lionfish appear to be able to circumvent mechanisms commonly used by prey to identify predators and were misclassified as non-predatory, and this is likely to contribute to their success as predators.

Item ID: 47761
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2051-1434
Keywords: chemical alarm cue, coral reef fishes, escape response, predator–prey, Pterois volitans, risk assessment
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This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CECRS)
Projects and Grants: CECRS EI 140100117
Research Data:
Date Deposited: 31 Mar 2017 00:35
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310302 Community ecology (excl. invasive species ecology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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