Marine protected areas modulate habitat suitability of the invasive round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) in the Baltic Sea
Biological invasions are one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss worldwide. Given that eradication of invasive species is not usually a practical option, conservationists may attempt to limit their impacts through the designation and management of protected areas. Here, we investigate the effect of marine protected areas on the habitat suitability of an invasive species, the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus). By modelling its environmental niche space in the Baltic Sea, we demonstrated that gobies prefer shallow, warmer waters, sheltered from significant wave action. They are more likely to be found near areas of intense shipping, this being their primary method of long-distance dispersal. Comparison of the goby's occurrences inside/outside protected areas indicated that suitable habitats within protected areas are more resistant to the round goby's invasion compared to adjacent unprotected areas, however the opposite is true for suboptimal habitats. This has important ecosystem management implications with marine conservation areas providing mitigation measures to control the spread of round goby in its optimal habitats in the Baltic Sea environment. Being subjected to reduced human impacts, native species within protected areas may be more numerous and diverse, helping to resist invasive species incursion.