Broad-scale acoustic telemetry reveals long-distance movements and large home ranges for invasive lionfish on Atlantic coral reefs

Stephanie J. Green, Jordan K. Matley, D. Elizabeth Smith, Bernard Castillo, John L. Akins, Richard S. Nemeth, Clayton Pollock, Kynoch Reale-Munroe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Tracking studies for invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) in the Western Atlantic can provide key information on habitat use to inform population control, but to date have likely underestimated home range size and movement due to constrained spatial and temporal scales. We tracked 35 acoustically tagged lionfish for >1 yr (March 2018-May 2019) within a 35 km2 acoustic array in Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands (an area 10× larger than previous studies). Tracking lionfish at this scale revealed that home range size is 3-20 times larger than previously estimated and varies more than 8-fold across individuals (∼48 000-379 000 m2; average: 101 000 m2), with estimates insensitive to assumptions about potential mortality for low-movement individuals. Lionfish move far greater distances than previously reported, with 37% of fish traveling >1 km from the initial tagging site toward deeper habitats, and 1 individual moving ∼10 km during a 10 d period. Movement rates, home range size, and maximum distance traveled were not related to lionfish size (18-35 cm total length) or lunar phase. Lionfish movement was lowest at night and greatest during crepuscular periods, with fish acceleration (m s-2) increasing with water temperature during these times. Our results help reconcile observed patterns of rapid recolonization following lionfish removal, and suggest complex drivers likely result in highly variable patterns of movement for similarly sized fish occupying the same habitat. Culling areas ≥ the average lionfish home range size identified here (i.e. ∼10 ha) or habitat patches isolated by ≥ ∼180 m (radius of average home range) may minimize subsequent recolonization. If the shallow-deep long-distance movements observed here are unidirectional, mesophotic habitats may require culling at relatively greater frequencies to counteract ongoing migration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-134
Number of pages18
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Acoustic telemetry
  • Animal movement
  • Habitat use
  • Home range size
  • Invasive species
  • Marine conservation
  • Population control


Dive into the research topics of 'Broad-scale acoustic telemetry reveals long-distance movements and large home ranges for invasive lionfish on Atlantic coral reefs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this