Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures


Modeling Suggests Hurricanes Accelerated the Florida–Bahamas Lionfish Invasion

Event Name/Location

147th Annual Meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Tampa, Florida, August 20-24, 2017

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The Florida Current separates Florida from the Bahamas and is a strong dispersal barrier to marine organisms that reproduce via planktonic larvae. Invasive lionfish were first noted from South Florida in the 1980’s and somehow breached this dispersal barrier by the year 2004 when they were first discovered in Bahamian waters. Hurricanes cause perturbations to the Florida Current and we suggest that that these disturbances facilitated the spread of lionfish from Florida to the Bahamas and then hasten their spread thereafter. We demonstrate this through 1) an analysis of the speed and direction of water flow in the Florida Straits during passing storms, and 2) the use of a biophysical model that integrates lionfish reproductive strategies and ocean conditions to forecast their spread with and without storms. On the basis of this analysis, we found 23 occasions between 1992 and 2006 when lionfish may have breached the Florida Current on storm-altered water flow. Furthermore, hurricanes during this timeframe accelerated their spread by 45% and increased their abundance by at least 15%. We propose that extreme weather event such as hurricanes may also homogenize the gene pool for other Caribbean species that reproduce similar to lionfish with buoyant, pelagic larvae.