Marine Invasions Research

Principal Investigator

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. 

Chang, A.L., Brown, C.W., Crooks, J.A., Ruiz, G.M. 2017. Dry and wet periods drive rapid shifts in community assembly in an estuarine ecosystem. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13972 December 7, 2017

Jurgens, L. J., Freestone, A. L., Ruiz, G.M. and Torchin, M.E. 2017. Prior predation alters community resistance to an extreme climate disturbance. Ecosphere, 8 (10)http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1986 October 31, 2017

Carlton J.T. , Chapman, J.W., Geller, J.B, Miller, J.A., Carlton, D.A., McCuller, M.I., Treneman, N.C., Steves, B.P., Ruiz, G.M. 2017. Tsunami-driven rafting: Transoceanic species dispersal and implications for marine biogeography. Science 357, 1402–1406. September 28, 2017

Ashton, Gail V., Morley, Simon A., Barnes, David K. A., Clark, Melody S. and Peck, Lloyd S. 2017. Warming by 1°C Drives Species and Assemblage Level Responses in Antarctica's Marine Shallows. Current biology: CB, 27 (17) , 2698-2705. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.048 August 31, 2017

Ricciardi, Anthony, Blackburn, Tim M., Carlton, James T., Dick, Jaimie T. A., Hulme, Philip E., Iacarella, Josephine C., Jeschke, Jonathan M., Liebhold, Andrew M., Lockwood, Julie L., MacIsaac, Hugh J., Pysek, Petr, Richardson, David M., Ruiz, Gregory M., Simberloff, Daniel, Sutherland, William J., Wardle, David A. and Aldridge, David C. 2017. Invasion Science: Looking Forward Rather Than Revisiting Old Ground - A Reply to Zenni et al.. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 32 (11) , 809-810.http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2017.08.007 August 29, 2017


Abstracts

December 7, 2017

Chang, A.L., Brown, C.W., Crooks, J.A., Ruiz, G.M. 2017. Dry and wet periods drive rapid shifts in community assembly in an estuarine ecosystem. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13972

Abstract: The impacts of changing climate regimes on emergent processes controlling the assembly of ecological communities remain poorly understood. Human alterations to the water cycle in the western United States have resulted in greater interannual variability and more frequent and severe extremes in freshwater flow. The specific mechanisms through which such extremes and climate regime shifts may alter eco-logical communities have rarely been demonstrated, and baseline information on current impacts of environmental variation is widely lacking for many habitats and communities. Here, we used observations and experiments to show that interannual variation in winter salinity levels in San Francisco Bay controls the mechanisms determining sessile invertebrate community composition during the following summer. We found consistent community changes in response to decadal-scale dry and wet extremes during a 13-year period, producing strikingly different communities.Our results match theoretical predictions of major shifts in species composition in response to environmental forcing up to a threshold, beyond which we observed mass mortality and wholesale replacement of the former community. These results provide a window into potential future community changes, with environmental forcing altering communities by shifting the relative influences of the mechanisms controlling species distributions and abundances. We place these results in the con-text of historical and projected future environmental variation in the San Francisco Bay Estuary.

 

October 31, 2017

Jurgens, L. J., Freestone, Amy L., Ruiz, Gregory M. and Torchin, Mark E. 2017. Prior predation alters community resistance to an extreme climate disturbance. Ecosphere, 8 (10)http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1986

Abstract: Short-term physical disturbances occur amid a backdrop of longer-term biotic interactions, including predation, which shape communities. Effects of consumer interactions typically begin in early stages of assembly and continue throughout post-disturbance recovery. Despite decades of predation and disturbance research, few studies examine how consumer interactions during these different time periods may affect community responses to disturbance. Here we use replicate communities of tropical, sessile invertebrates to ask whether fish predation during initial assembly (before) and recovery (after) influences community resistance to a hurricane-level low-salinity event. Results revealed that pre-event predation determined whether communities shifted in biomass and community structure following disturbance. Communities that assembled without predators responded to the low-salinity event strongly, with large shifts in community composition and a mean loss of 54% of pre-disturbance biomass after a one-month recovery period. In contrast, those that experienced predation during initial assembly were strikingly resistant to disturbance, which had no effect on species composition or biomass. Results were driven by predator removal of a dominant competitor, which gave rise to more disturbance-resistant communities. These findings highlight the potential for past trophic interactions to shape community stability in the face of physical disturbances predicted to escalate with global change.

Cover of Science Sept 2017

September 28, 2017

Carlton J.T. , Chapman, J.W., Geller, J.B, Miller, J.A., Carlton, D.A., McCuller, M.I., Treneman, N.C., Steves, B.P., Ruiz, G.M. 2017. Tsunami-driven rafting: Transoceanic species dispersal and implications for marine biogeography. Science 357, 1402–1406. September 28, 2017

Abstract: The 2011 East Japan earthquake generated a massive tsunami that launched an extraordinary transoceanic biological rafting event with no known historical precedent. We document 289 living Japanese coastal marine species from 16 phyla transported over 6 years on objects that traveled thousands of kilometers across the Pacific Ocean to the shores of North America and Hawai‘i. Most of this dispersal occurred on nonbiodegradable objects, resulting in the longest documented transoceanic survival and dispersal of coastal species by rafting. Expanding shoreline infrastructure has increased global sources of plastic materials available for biotic colonization and also interacts with climate change–induced storms of increasing severity to eject debris into the oceans. In turn, increased ocean rafting may intensify species invasions.

 

August 31, 2017

Ashton, Gail V., Morley, Simon A., Barnes, David K. A., Clark, Melody S. and Peck, Lloyd S. 2017. Warming by 1°C Drives Species and Assemblage Level Responses in Antarctica's Marine Shallows. Current biology: CB, 27 (17) , 2698-2705. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.048 

Summary: Forecasting assemblage-level responses to climate change remains one of the greatest challenges in global ecology [1, 2]. Data from the marine realm are limited because they largely come from experiments using limited numbers of species [3], mesocosms whose interior conditions are unnatural [4], and long-term correlation studies based on historical collections [5]. We describe the first ever experiment to warm benthic assemblages to ecologically relevant levels in situ. Heated settlement panels were used to create three test conditions: ambient and 1°C and 2°C above ambient (predicted in the next 50 and 100 years, respectively [6]). We observed massive impacts on a marine assemblage, with near doubling of growth rates of Antarctic seabed life. Growth increases far exceed those expected from biological temperature relationships established more than 100 years ago by Arrhenius. These increases in growth resulted in a single “r-strategist” pioneer species (the bryozoan Fenestrulina rugula) dominating seabed spatial cover and drove a reduction in overall diversity and evenness. In contrast, a 2°C rise produced divergent responses across species growth, resulting in higher variability in the assemblage. These data extend our ability to expand, integrate, and apply our knowledge of the impact of temperature on biological processes to predict organism, species, and ecosystem level ecological responses to regional warming.

August 29, 2017

Ricciardi, Anthony, Blackburn, Tim M., Carlton, James T., Dick, Jaimie T. A., Hulme, Philip E., Iacarella, Josephine C., Jeschke, Jonathan M., Liebhold, Andrew M., Lockwood, Julie L., MacIsaac, Hugh J., Pysek, Petr, Richardson, David M., Ruiz, Gregory M., Simberloff, Daniel, Sutherland, William J., Wardle, David A. and Aldridge, David C. 2017. Invasion Science: Looking Forward Rather Than Revisiting Old Ground - A Reply to Zenni et al.. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 32 (11) , 809-810. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2017.08.007

Partial Intro Text: Using horizon scanning techniques, we identified 14 emerging issues, not yet widely recognized or understood, that are likely to affect how biological invasions are studied and managed on a global scale [1]. Zenni et al. [2] do not comment on the major issues identified in our study. Instead, they draw attention to the nationalities of our authorship and the lack of representation from developing countries, and they imply that as a consequence our paper promotes misconceptions and ignores key issues affecting such countries. In particular, they criticize our ‘opinionated statement’ that most developing countries have a limited capacity to respond to invasions. This is not merely our opinion; we cited Early et al.[3], whose analysis concluded that proactive capacities, although far from sufficient globally, are more advanced in countries with a high human development index (HDI) than in those with a low HDI. Continued...

 

 

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

Laravel tunicates

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).   

Signature Programs