Tropical invaders: the Med’s warming seas put native species in hot water

Tropical invaders: the Med’s warming seas put native species in hot water

A host of fish species arriving via the Suez canal look set to stay – with perilous consequences for ecosystems

Pasquale Tuccio docked his small, blue and white wooden boat at the old pier on Linosa, one of Italy’s tiny Pelagie islands in the strait of Sicily. Inspecting his gillnet, he found a slipper lobster, some sea bream, a bunch of parrotfish – and about six rabbitfish. Unlike his fellow fishers, who toss rabbitfish back, Tuccio takes them home for his cat. The fish have venomous spines, however, and he still remembers his first encounter with them. “I got stung only once,” Tuccio says. “I hope it won’t happen again. It was so painful.”

Rabbitfish Siganus luridusalso known as dusky spinefoot – is a tropical species, native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. After the Suez canal opened in 1869, the rabbitfish entered the eastern Mediterranean, making its way into Greek waters by 1964. It has since moved into the western Mediterranean, where it has found an abundance of its favourite food: seagrass. In more recent years, the rabbitfish has been multiplying in the waters around Linosa, where it devours the forests of algae. Researchers have found it as far west as France.

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