Marine Invasions Research

Principal Investigator

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Biological invasions - the establishment of species beyond their historical range - are a major force of ecological and evolutionary change. Our lab aims to understand the patterns, processes, and consequences of invasions in marine ecosystems on local to global scales.  We have laboratories and staff on both coasts of North America, on Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay (Tiburon Lab).  These bays are focal points for our long-term, intensive research, which spans Pacific and Atlantic shorelines of the Americas --- from polar to tropical latitudes. 

Most marine invasions result from human-mediated species transfers, which are often associated with commercial and recreational vessels. A major component of our research examines shipping, transportation, and trade dynamics for the United States with the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse (NBIC), a joint program with the U.S. Coast Guard that is based at SERC.  NBIC tracks the status and trends of ballast water delivery and management for the Nation.

Our research encompasses a wide range of projects, exploring the ecology and management of coastal marine ecosystems.  We focus primarily on invasion dynamics but also examine species interactions of both native and non-native species. Overall, we seek to: (1) characterize patterns of marine invasion across space, time, and taxonomic groups; (2) develop a mechanistic understanding of the processes that drive observed patterns; (3) advance predictive capability about the establishment, spread, and impacts of non-native species in marine ecosystems; (4) evaluate the efficacy of management strategies to limit the establishment and impact of invaders; and (5) understand the roles of species interactions, including predator-prey and host-parasite relationships, in marine communities. 

Further details on the various dimensions of our work are available below. 

Rubinoff, B.G., and E.D. Grosholz. 2022. Biological invasions alter consumer–stress relationships along an estuarine gradient. Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.3695 (online March 30, 2022)

Orr, R.J.S., Di Martino, E., Ramfjell, M.H., Gordon, D.P., Berning, B., Chowdhury, I., Craig, S., Cumming, R.L., Figuerola, B., ... McCann, L., ... , and Liow, L.H. 2022. Paleozoic origins of cheilostome bryozoans and their parental care inferred by a new genome-skimmed phylogeny. Science Advances 8(13)  DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abm7452 (online March 30, 2022)

Cacabelos, E., Gestoso, I, Ramalhosa, P.,  and CanningClode, J. 2022. Role of nonindigenous species in structuring benthic communities after fragmentation events: an experimental approach. Biol. Invasions. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-022-02768-9 (online March 26, 2022)

Zabin, C.J., Jurgens, L.J., Bible, J.M., Patten, M.V., Chang, A.L., Grosholz, E.D., and Boyer, K.E. 2022. Increasing the resilience of ecological restoration to extreme climatic events. Frontier in Ecology and the Environment. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2471 (online February 15, 2022)

Alves, F., Monteiro, J.G., Oliveira, P and Canning-Clode, J.. 2022. Portugal leads with Europe’s largest marine reserve. Nature 601, p318 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00093-8 (Online January 18, 2022)


Abstracts

March 30, 2022

Rubinoff, B.G., and E.D. Grosholz. 2022. Biological invasions alter consumer–stress relationships along an estuarine gradient. Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.3695 

Estuaries represent steep stress gradients for aquatic organisms, with abiotic stress due to temperature and salinity typically increasing with distance into estuary. Invertebrate communities and their predators are strongly influenced by these stress gradients. The environmental stress model predicts that the importance of predation in structuring communities decreases with increasing environmental stress. Estuaries contain a stress gradient for marine organisms this includes salinity, temperature, and other abiotic properties. Additionally, estuaries are hotspots for biological invasions; increased stress tolerance among non-native species could change the predictions of the environmental stress model. In this study, we investigate how introduced species alter the predictions of the environmental stress model by examining the effects of predators on sessile invertebrates across an estuarine gradient. To do this, we deployed recruitment plates across the estuarine gradient of Tomales Bay, California, USA using various caging treatments over the summer of 2019. We found that the effect of predation changed across sites, with the mid-estuary site experiencing the greatest reductions in prey abundance and prey species richness when exposed to predators. This was likely to be due to higher proportions of non-native prey and predator taxa mid-estuary, including solitary ascidians, which are highly susceptible to predation. Overall, predation did not follow the predictions of the environmental stress model, but rather followed the abundance of functional groups with non-native species, whose distribution could be mediated by environmental stress gradients. We suggest that this may be a general result and that communities subject to large numbers of stress-tolerant invaders may have high rates of consumption in high stress areas, contrasting predictions by previous models.

Orr, R.J.S., Di Martino, E., Ramfjell, M.H., Gordon, D.P., Berning, B., Chowdhury, I., Craig, S., Cumming, R.L., Figuerola, B., ... McCann, L., ... , and Liow, L.H. 2022. Paleozoic origins of cheilostome bryozoans and their parental care inferred by a new genome-skimmed phylogeny. Science Advances 8(13)  DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abm7452 

Phylogenetic relationships and the timing of evolutionary events are essential for understanding evolution on longer time scales. Cheilostome bryozoans are a group of ubiquitous, species-rich, marine colonial organisms with an excellent fossil record but lack phylogenetic relationships inferred from molecular data. We present genome-skimmed data for 395 cheilostomes and combine these with 315 published sequences to infer relationships and the timing of key events among c. 500 cheilostome species. We find that named cheilostome genera and species are phylogenetically coherent, rendering fossil or contemporary specimens readily delimited using only skeletal morphology. Our phylogeny shows that parental care in the form of brooding evolved several times independently but was never lost in cheilostomes. Our fossil calibration, robust to varied assumptions, indicates that the cheilostome lineage and parental care therein could have Paleozoic origins, much older than the first known fossil record of cheilostomes in the Late Jurassic.

March 26, 2022

Cacabelos, E., Gestoso, I, Ramalhosa, P.,  and CanningClode, J. 2022. Role of nonindigenous species in structuring benthic communities after fragmentation events: an experimental approach. Biol. Invasions. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-022-02768-9 (online March 26, 2022)

Habitat loss and fragmentation, and biological invasions are widely considered the most significant threats to global biodiversity. While marine invasions have already shown dramatic impacts around the world’s coasts, many of these habitats are becoming increasingly urbanized, resulting in fragmentation of natural landscape worldwide. This study developed in Madeira (NE Atlantic) aims to understand the synergistic interactions between fragmentation and biological invasions using submerged experimental settlement panels in the field for 3 months. We fragmented crustose coralline habitats, decreasing patch size without an overall habitat loss, and determined its effects on the patterns of abundance of marine fouling organisms across limiting assemblages with or without the presence of non-indigenous species (NIS, considered invaded and non-invaded systems in this study). The presence of crustose coralline algae suppressed the recruitment of some NIS (Parasmitina alba and Botrylloides niger). Our results also showed that the abundance of NIS (e.g. B. niger) could be prompted in highly fragmented habitats, colonizing bare substrates very efficiently. Overall, evidence indicates that fragmentation events modulate biotic interactions and consequently determine the structure of the fouling communities. Future research should address both processes when analyzing biotic resistance to invasion in urban marine habitats.

February 15, 2022

Zabin, C.J., Jurgens, L.J., Bible, J.M., Patten, M.V., Chang, A.L., Grosholz, E.D., and Boyer, K.E. 2022. Increasing the resilience of ecological restoration to extreme climatic events. Frontier in Ecology and the Environment. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2471 

Extreme climatic events (ECEs) are increasing in frequency and magnitude as part of global climate change, with severe consequences for both nature and human societies. While many restoration projects account for gradual climate change, ECEs are rarely considered. Through a literature search and the use of expert opinion, we reviewed the impacts of ECEs on habitat restoration projects, and the degree to which they were resilient. ECEs had overwhelmingly negative impacts on habitat restoration, although some projects also reported positive outcomes. The severity of impact varied among and within projects. Nearly all projects that included more than one focal species, life stage or genotype, restoration method, site, habitat type, or microhabitat reported better outcomes for at least one of these project aspects. We suggest that practitioners may be able to reduce risk from future ECEs through a portfolio approach, incorporating heterogeneity into project design, including in site selection and propagule choices.

January 18, 2022

Alves, F., Monteiro, J.G., Oliveira, P and Canning-Clode, J.. 2022. Portugal leads with Europe’s largest marine reserve. Nature 601, p318 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00093-8

Marine conservation is central to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 13 (climate action) and 14 (life below water). Portugal has now created the largest marine reserve with full protection in Europe and the North Atlantic, an achievement that other nations could follow.

The Selvagens Islands Nature Reserve was formally extended in November 2021 from 95 to 2,677 square kilometres to protect remote and pristine coastal, pelagic and deep-sea habitats of species such as the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the blue shark (Prionace glauca). The reserve is guaranteed the highest international level of protection (go.nature.com/3r5uf2j). This evidence-based initiative was led by the local wildlife-management authority (the Institute of Forests and Nature Conservation), in collaboration with the National Geographic Society in Washington DC, the Oceano Azul Foundation in Lisbon and the Waitt Institute in La Jolla, California.

Marine protected areas mitigate overfishing, climate change and other human-induced pressures (E. Sala et al. Nature 592, 397–402; 2021). They are effective only if highly or fully protected (K. Grorud-Colvert et al. Science 373, eabf0861; 2021).

Portugal is committed to sustainably managing its waters by 2025 (https://oceanpanel.org; see also go.nature.com/3zt2ajn).

Species distributions are at the core of all ecological and evolutionary processes. Despite recognition that accelerating invasions are radically changing fundamental ecological processes, we currently lack the data for a broad scale understanding of these  patterns, emergent properties, and practical implications across both spatial and temporal scales. We are collecting quality occurrence data and using these data to understand patterns and mechanisms of invasion, and making these data publicly available for broader application by the public.

Our Projects

The impacts of introduced species pose significant challenges for conservation and restoration because they undermine a desired outcome for target species or habitats. In addition, some invasions impose significant economic costs through loss of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries products, and others, including mosquito-borne viruses and toxic algal blooms, have severe human health effects. Detailed analysis of several high-profile species invasions have highlighted the types and potential magnitude of invasion impacts that exist, however, the effect of most non-native species and the full scope of impacts from invasions remains poorly understood. To address this gap, we use a variety of approaches to characterize and test the ecological, evolutionary, and social effects of non-native species across diverse ecosystems.  This work advances understanding of how the Earth’s ecosystems function and also serve to inform resource management and conservation strategies.

Our Projects

Biological invasions provide opportunities to examine how species and ecosystems respond to new arrivals, and how species adapt to new environmental conditions. These types of “natural experiments” provide new insights into many biological processes, especially early in the colonization process, that are not possible with native communities.  We examine invasion ecology at the population, community, and ecosystem level across a diverse range of habitats and organisms, both to advance basic science and inform management and conservation strategies.

Our Projects

Managing biological invasions is a worldwide endeavor that aims to (a) prevent the human-caused spread of species, (b) control and remove unwanted species, and (c) reduce negative impacts to society and the environment. We are evaluating the efficacy and consequences of invasion management strategies and policies in coastal estuaries and marine systems.  Our work is often done in collaboration with local, state, federal and international partners and used actively to inform current management and policy decisions.

Our Projects

We study the dynamic interactions between society, trade, transport, and species in a variety of ways. These include modeling transport networks and biotic exchange, evaluating business model forecasts and their effects on trade routes and species distributions, and assessments of organism transfers across major corridors between oceans and continents.

Our Projects

Understanding how modes of human transportation affect the environment, and biological invasions in particular, is complicated and involves many components including both human and natural history. Human history because most invasions result from human-aided species transfers and invasion patterns often reflect human movements and transportation systems. Natural history because species identifications and their life history characteristics are paramount to knowing which species are non-native and how they have likely been introduced. We work to address these complexities and strive to understand the dynamics of species transport in marine systems. 

Our Projects

Balanced predation and competition are key to the health of any ecosystem. We are examining predation and competition rates in several environments including in the Rhode River near SERC where we study native species in nearshore environments and in introduced fouling communities on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.  

Our Projects

Communities are constantly being shaped by human activities, activates that can affect hydrology, climate, chemical inputs, species richness (number of species that make up the community), as well as habitat quantity and quality. Our research focuses on how biological invasions change the marine and estuarine communities they invade and how recipient communities protect themselves from invasion. The following highlights a few of our recent projects exploring community changes resulting from nonnative species introductions.

Our Projects

Propagule Pressure in Marine Habitats

We are examining the complex, dynamic interactions between parasites and their hosts, including both the evolutionary and ecological mechanisms that influence these interactions. Our research includes a wide variety of hosts (e.g., seagrasses, bivalves, crustaceans) and parasites (e.g., protists, bacteria, crustaceans).