Lionfish (Pterois volitans) have rapidly invaded the tropical Atlantic and spread across the wider Caribbean in a relatively short period of time. Because of its high invasion capacity, we used it as a model to identify the connectivity among nine marine protected areas (MPAs) situated in four countries in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. This study provides evidence of local genetic differentiation of P. volitans in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. A total of 475 lionfish samples were characterized with 12 microsatellites, with 6–20 alleles per locus. Departures from Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium (HWE) were found in 10 of the 12 loci, all caused by heterozygous excess. Moderate genetic differentiation was observed between Chiriviche, Venezuela and Xcalak, México localities (FST = 0.012), and between the Los Roques and the Veracruz (FST = 0.074) sites. STRUCTURE analysis found that four genetic entities best fit our data. A unique genetic group in the Gulf of Mexico may imply that the lionfish invasion unfolded both in a counterclockwise manner in the Gulf of Mexico. In spite of the notable dispersion of P. volitans, our results show some genetic structure, as do other noninvasive Caribbean fish species, suggesting that the connectivity in some MPAs analyzed in the Caribbean is limited and caused by only a few source individuals with subsequent genetic drift leading to local genetic differentiation. This indicates that P. volitans dispersion could be caused by mesoscale phenomena, which produce stochastic connectivity pulses. Due to the isolation of some MPAs from others, these findings may hold a promise for local short‐term control of by means of intensive fishing, even in MPAs, and may have regional long‐term effects.
Invasive species pose a significant threat to a primary objective of marine conservation, protecting native biodiversity. To-date, research quantifying invasion risk to marine protected areas (MPAs) is limited despite potential negative consequences. As a first step towards identifying invasion risk to MPAs via vessel ballast or biofouling, we evaluated vessel traffic patterns by applying graph-theoretic concepts for 1346 vessels that connected invaded areas (‘invasion nodes’) along the Northeast Pacific coast to MPAs within Canadian waters in 2016. We found that 29% of MPAs overlapped with invasion nodes and 70% were connected to invasion nodes via vessel traffic. Recreational vessels were most prevalent within invasion and MPA nodes, made the most connections between invasion nodes and MPAs, and spent the most time within nodes. Vessel connections increased in summer and with spatial extent and dock area at invasion and MPA nodes, as well as for MPAs with minimal regulatory protection. Results from this work highlight risk posed by vessels as a vector for nonindigenous species spread and present an opportunity to develop improved management measures to help protect MPAs. Such an approach can be applied to vector interactions with protected areas across biomes for targeted invasion management.
Antarctic shallow coastal marine communities were long thought to be isolated from their nearest neighbours by hundreds of kilometres of deep ocean and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The discovery of non–native kelp washed up on Antarctic beaches led us to question the permeability of these barriers to species dispersal. According to the literature, over 70 million kelp rafts are afloat in the Southern Ocean at any one time. These living, floating islands can play host to a range of passenger species from both their original coastal location and those picked in the open ocean. Driven by winds, currents and storms towards the coast of the continent, these rafts are often cited as theoretical vectors for the introduction of new species into Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. We found non-native kelps, with a wide range of “hitchhiking” passenger organisms, on an Antarctic beach inside the flooded caldera of an active volcanic island. This is the first evidence of non-native species reaching the Antarctic continent alive on kelp rafts. One passenger species, the bryozoan Membranipora membranacea, is found to be an invasive and ecologically harmful species in some cold-water regions, and this is its first record from Antarctica. The caldera of Deception Island provides considerably milder conditions than the frigid surrounding waters and it could be an ideal location for newly introduced species to become established. These findings may help to explain many of the biogeographic patterns and connections we currently see in the Southern Ocean. However, with the impacts of climate change in the region we may see an increase in the range and number of organisms capable of surviving both the long journey and becoming successfully established.
Marine bioinvasions require integrating monitoring tools with other complementary strategies. In this study, we collected information about the invasive Callinectes sapidus in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, by means of online questionnaires administered to recreational fishers (n = 797). Our records matched the current distribution of the species: C. sapidus resulted far more common in the Adriatic, than in the Tyrrhenian sector. Most respondents rated the species as ‘occasional’ or ‘rare’. Moreover, the more C. sapidus was considered to be abundant, the more fishers tended to perceive it as a negative disturbance over fisheries and the environment. Our findings suggest that C. sapidus is more common than previously thought in the most of the study area, and it could have reached the levels of a true invasions in the south-eastern Adriatic Sea. This experience demonstrates that online questionnaires can be appropriate tools to effectively engage stakeholders in alien species monitoring.
The aim of the present study was to risk screen 45 jellyfish species (30 hydromedusae, 14 scyphomedusae, one cubomedusa) for their potential invasiveness in the Mediterranean Sea to aid managers in making informed decisions on targeting appropriate species for management. Using the Aquatic Species Invasiveness Screening Kit (AS-ISK), calibrated basic and climate-change threshold assessment scores of 6.5 and 12.5, respectively, were identified for distinguishing reliably between species that pose ‘low-to-medium’ and ‘high’ risk of becoming invasive in the risk assessment area. Using these thresholds, 16 species were classified as high risk, 23 as medium risk and six as low risk under current climate conditions. Whereas, under future climate conditions, 13, 30 and two species, respectively, were classified as high, medium and low risk, respectively. Upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea andromeda, Australian spotted jellyfish Phyllorhiza punctata, sea nettle Chrysaora quinquecirrha and Rhopilema nomadica were the highest-scoring species, with the maximum increase in risk score under predicted climate change conditions being achieved by C. andromeda.
Following the Editorial addressing the BALMAS project, we open the ballast water management special issue for the Adriatic Sea by providing background information on non-indigenous species and the mechanisms (vectors) of transport. Problems allocating introduction mechanisms for various species with certainty are described; in general, key introduction mechanisms are shipping, with ballast water and biofouling as dominant vectors, and aquaculture activities. The dominant mechanisms for introduction may differ through time, between regions and across species. We highlight ballast water as the focus of an international convention to prevent future introductions, reviewing management options and suggesting future research needs. This assessment is not restricted in application to the Adriatic Sea, but is applicable to other coastal waters. Results of such future work may contribute to the experience building phase planned by the International Maritime Organization for a harmonised implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention.
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.
Alien species and bottom trawl fisheries are of significant concern in the Eastern Mediterranean as both can put pressure on coastal systems whilst some alien species also constitute an important component of the trawl catches. Using an Ecopath model representing the Gulf of Mersin (Northeastern Mediterranean) for the period September 2009 to September 2013, this study describes the impacts of alien species and bottom trawl fisheries on the structure and functioning of this Northeastern Mediterranean food web. Our results show that the increase in alien species has had an important ecological impact on ecosystem structure and function. The alien species have had mostly negative impacts on native taxa, and trawl fisheries may have helped some alien species gain an advantage over native species, particularly at lower trophic levels. The Mixed Trophic Impact analysis showed that trawling and trawl discards had a noticeable direct and indirect impact on the food web, to the extent that trawling now affects the ecological role of the alien species. The cumulative overall impact of alien demersal functional groups on the pelagic domain, and vice versa suggest that alien species now play a role in benthic-pelagic coupling, and that this role is mediated by the fisheries. These results support the idea that alien species and trawling are now both important factors in structuring the Northeastern Mediterranean food web. It will thus be critical to consider both factors, as well as their interactions, when developing ecosystem-based management approaches for the region.
Environmental DNA is increasingly being used in marine invasive species surveillance despite the inability to discriminate between contemporary intracellular (i.e., living) and extracellularly persistent (i.e., legacy) DNA fragments. Environmental RNA is emerging as a powerful alternative when distinguishing the living portion of a community is essential. A positive relationship between DNA and RNA signals may justify the use of DNA only for more rapid and cost-effective detections. In this study environmental DNA and RNA were co-extracted from settlement plates and water samples collected in an Auckland harbor, New Zealand. Samples were analyzed using a specific droplet digital PCR assay for the invasive Mediterranean fanworm (Sabella spallanzanii), combined with metabarcoding of metazoan communities (Cytochrome c oxidase subunit I). The number and magnitude of S. spallanzanii detections was higher in DNA compared to RNA, and in water samples. An assessment of detection sensitivity and specificity using a Receiver Operator Characteristics (ROC) analysis supported a relationship between the magnitude of DNA signal and the likelihood of RNA detection for both sampled matrices. A prediction threshold of 400 COI copies in DNA samples provides an indicator for the detection of eRNA, hence the putative presence of living S. spallanzanii population under the conditions tested in this study. Metabarcoding community analysis revealed the taxonomic composition of the water samples to be more diverse than the plate samples which were largely dominated by mollusks. There was a strong association between mollusks and presumed extracellular droplet digital PCR signals. Nevertheless, droplet digital PCR detection signals based on environmental DNA were negatively correlated with metabarcoding diversity indices on plates. This highlights complex interactions between environmental DNA and RNA detections and environmental matrices that can affect targeted approaches. These interactions need to be considered when designing surveillance programs.
Worldwide, the loss of predatory fish due to overexploitation has altered the structure of native communities and caused ecosystem shifts. Ecosystems deprived of high-level predators may be more vulnerable to invasive alien species as the latter are subject to reduced predation control. Marine protected areas (MPAs), and particularly no-take reserves where fishing is banned, can be effective tools for the restoration of predatory relationships within their boundaries. We explored whether the restoration of high-level predatory fish populations within Mediterranean MPAs can exert top-down control on alien fish. Fish tethering experiments, including native (Sardina pilchardus, Boops boops) and alien (Siganus rivulatus) dead specimens, were conducted to quantify predation within the no-take zones of three MPAs and in unprotected areas, and to assess potential differences in predation rates and prey type preferences. A subsample of experimental units was filmed to document predation events and related fish behavior. More high-level predators interacted with the tethered fish inside the MPAs than in unprotected areas. Yet we did not find significant differences in the consumption of alien or native fishes between MPAs and unprotected areas. The native S. pilchardus was consumed more in comparison to the other tethered fishes, regardless of protection status and location. Interestingly, the alien S. rivulatus was consumed by native predators in the western Mediterranean locations where this alien fish is not established. Despite its limitations, our study provides evidence on the ability of some native predators to feed on and potentially control certain alien species without requiring ‘adaptive’ time-lag periods.