Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Ryan Rykaczewski

Abstract

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) are an invasive, predatory fish native to the reefs of the Indo-Pacific. In the mid-1980s, lionfish were introduced off the coast of Miami, FL and have since transformed many of the reef ecosystems throughout the Western Atlantic Ocean. Although lionfish are found year-round as far north as Cape Hatteras, NC, they are confined to the warm Gulf Stream during winter months. Seasonal inshore expansion is possible in the summer, and further poleward expansion is limited by cold bottom-water temperatures in winter. Here, I use an ensemble of 17 different climate models to project lionfish habitat by the year 2100. Climate models were statistically downscaled using an existing Regional Ocean Modeling System, permitting a high-resolution (7-by-7 km) projection of bottom-water temperatures across the Western Atlantic Ocean. I compared these projections to the lower temperature thresholds of lionfish feeding and mortality, previously estimated to be 16°C and 10°C, respectively. Under the business-as-usual climate change scenario (RCP 8.5), lionfish habitat is likely to move inshore to the coastlines of the Carolinas, including the Pamlico Sound, NC. The spatial extent of suitable habitat in the South Atlantic Bight is expected to increase 35% by 2100, and seasonal range is expected to expand by 24%. These methods are broadly applicable to other niche models, especially for other hardy, generalist species sensitive to climate change. This work has applications for management and prevention of future lionfish invasions.

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