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Lionfish filmed feeding on new species of fish in the Caribbean

"Our concern was that these voracious predators might be gobbling up biodiversity before scientists even know it exists," said researcher Carole Baldwin.

By Brooks Hays

June 1 (UPI) -- Scientists have identified a new species of fish in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, video footage suggests invasive lionfish discovered the species first.

Film shows the newly named ember gobies, Palatogobius indendius, being eaten by lionfish in the "twilight zone," ocean depths beneath the traditional range of scuba divers.

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Little is known about about deeper reefs. The latest study, published last week in the journal PLOS ONE, is a reminder that the habitat holds many surprises, not all of them good.

The new fish species is distinguished by a bright orange stripe down its spine. The species was discovered by remote-controlled submarines outfitted with cameras. Most gobies hide by themselves in the nooks and crannies of coral reefs. Scientists found ember gobies swimming in schools of up to 100 individuals.

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Since biologists and conservationists first began tracking the invasion of lionfish in the Caribbean, they've worried the predators were beginning to harm deeper, less-studied habitats.

"Our concern was that these voracious predators might be gobbling up biodiversity before scientists even know it exists. This study suggests that they are doing just that," Carole Baldwin, curator of fishes at the National Museum of Natural History, said in a news release.

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The newly named species appears to be abundant enough to withstand the threat of lionfish, but other yet-named species may not be so lucky.

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"The other species still undescribed on these reefs are very rare and occur in lower abundances than our new species," said Luke Tornabene, an assistant professor of fishery sciences at the University of Washington. "If they are getting eaten by lionfish, they may be in more trouble than the ember goby."

The team of researchers responsible for the latest discovery are one of only three groups in the world looking for fish species in the twilight zone. They hope their efforts will be bolstered by a new type of submersible, which can descend to depths of more than 2,700 feet. The submarine is scheduled for its first test dives off the coast of Honduras this summer.

Improving submarine technologies have allowed scientists to collect fish specimens use a remote-controlled vacuum hose.

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"From inside a submarine, it's really hard to catch a small fish that is swimming, and it requires incredibly skilled pilots and scientists and a lot of patience," Tornabene said. "We've been able to do it with such success that we have come back from each trip with thousands of specimens."

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