By Richard Conn | WUWF

The highly invasive lionfish has been become a dominant predator since it was first documented in the Gulf off Pensacola in 2010.

Armed with venomous spines, a voracious appetite and no natural predator, it’s common to find 50 to 60 lionfish on just one reef, said Andy Ross with the Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition.
But what native species are these aggressive invaders eating?

Students dissect lionfish to look for prey items during marine biology class at Gulf Breeze High School Monday February 29, 2016 in Gulf Breeze, Florida. (Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO)

Students dissect lionfish to look for prey items during marine biology class at Gulf Breeze High School Monday February 29, 2016 in Gulf Breeze, Florida. (Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO)

“That’s what you guys are here to help us figure out,” University of West Florida professor Jeff Eble recently told students in a marine biology class at Gulf Breeze High School.

Eble, the research coordinator for the Gulf Islands Research and Education Center, has with the help of some of his UWF students been training local middle and high school students and teachers how to dissect lionfish and then identify the prey found in their stomachs using a process known as DNA barcoding. This is done by isolating, copying and reading the DNA sequence from each prey item, and then comparing it against a reference library of known DNA sequences.

“What we’re trying to do is to get a better understanding of the impacts of lionfish and to give students an opportunity to directly participate in ongoing research,” Eble said.

Seven schools participated in the partnership this year. In addition to Gulf Breeze High School, other schools that are participating in the project are Booker T. Washington High School, Escambia High School, Navarre High School, Pensacola High School, West Florida High School and Woodlawn Beach Middle School.

An award from the UWF Pace Academic Development Grant was used to purchase the equipment and supplies needed to get the project up and running. Read more…

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