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Nicholls Professor Researches Fish Causing Problems on Louisiana Coast

THIBODAUX, La. — A Nicholls State University professor’s research gives us insight into what makes the Lionfish a problematic invasive species.

Dr. Katherine Galloway, biological sciences instructor, was the lead author for “Predator–Prey Interactions Examined Using Lionfish Spine Puncture Performance.”

“This invasive species directly impacts the coastlines near Nicholls State University,” Galloway said. “In 2010, lionfish sightings were recorded in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Lionfish are generalist predators, and the estuaries of Louisiana are home to many of their diet—juvenile fish and crustaceans.”

The lionfish is a species native to the Indo-Pacific with venomous spines spanning 3 fin locations. They have no natural predators in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. Competing for limited food resources with other fish has contributed to a lack of biodiversity.

Eventually, Dr. Galloway’s research suggests groupers and sharks may recognize the lionfish as food, but currently, humans are the only biological control for them.

“They feed on a lot of commercially and economically important species, which is especially detrimental for areas with significant diving tourism,” she said.  “It is also suspected that the lionfish invasion in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to worsen as the climate changes.”

Dr. Galloway said the lionfish first appeared off the coast of Florida when six were released from an aquarium during Hurricane Andrew. However, people with private aquariums have likely released more to help increase their numbers, she said. It didn’t take long for lionfish to expand their invasion into the Gulf of Mexico.

Lionfish are also fast breeders, as females can release up to 2 million eggs a year. They can also survive long periods without food, only losing 5 to 16 percent of their weight after 3 months.

“I think this research really helps evaluate what makes an invasive species so successful, in terms of their body plan,” Dr. Galloway said. “Prior to my research, we knew that lionfish have venomous spines, but we didn’t know if all of the spines functioned in the same manner. Researching the mechanics of a structure is very important not only for anatomy but especially in terms of investigating a species invasion that the public contributed to.”

While most of this research was completed during her doctoral program at Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Galloway is looking for undergraduate students to begin research over the summer and fall.

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