Non-native Marine Fishes: Tracking Distributions with the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database

Science Center Objects

WARC scientists work with local partners to verify and document sightings of non-native marine fishes. 

The Science Issue and Relevance: Dozens of non-native marine fishes have been documented in Florida, and their distributions are tracked via the U.S. Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (USGS NAS) database. Most non-native marine species are from the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, and many are likely released aquarium pets. Lionfishes (Pterois volitans and P. miles) are non-native marine fishes that have established self-sustaining populations and have spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Atlantic Ocean from New York to Venezuela.

The USGS NAS database is the national repository and clearinghouse for sightings information of introduced aquatic fauna. Tracking of the status and distribution of non-native species is important for decision making and resource management. Additionally, Florida is a known hotspot of non-native marine fish invasions. It is important to maintain current information on the distributions of non-native marine species and remove them from the environment when possible.

Lionfish are spreading through the Western North Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico

Lionfish are spreading through the Western North Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico (credit: Ned DeLoach, Public domain).

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: USGS WARC scientists work with local partners (e.g., state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, university researchers, commercial fishermen, citizen scientists) to verify and document sightings of non-native marine fishes. When possible, specimens are collected and curated in museums for future analyses. Sometimes it is possible to remove non-native marine fishes soon after they are detected. 

Reported lionfish sightings: Animated Map (1985 - January 8, 2020)

Reported lionfish sightings: Animated Map (1985 - January 8, 2020)

Outreach materials, scientific data, and interviews are regularly provided to media, conservation organizations, and governmental agencies to educate the public about potential negative consequences of introductions of non-native marine fishes. The USGS NAS website provides distribution maps as well as factsheets that supply biological and ecological information for each species. A field guide to the non-native marine fishes of Florida was published in 2009. An updated online version of the field guide was created in 2020. Additionally, USGS scientists work regularly with other researchers to analyze larger patterns of marine fish introductions and impacts, which are reported in scientific journals.

 

Future Steps: Sightings of non-native marine fishes will continue to be collected, verified, and entered into the USGS NAS database. This work requires continual networking with government, academic, and public organizations to ensure rapid collection of sighting data. Species profiles on the USGS NAS website will be continually updated, incorporating new information on distribution and impacts. We will continue to generate publications describing general patterns of non-native marine fish introductions, as well as reports targeting specific taxonomic groups or geographic regions.