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. 

Clark, M.S.,  Nieva, L.V.,  Hoffman, J.I.,  Davies, A.J.,  Trivedi, U.H., Turner, F., Ashton, G.V., and Peck, L.S., 2019.  Lack of long-term acclimation in Antarctic encrusting species suggests vulnerability to warming. Nature Communication 10 (online July 29, 2019)

Cabrala, S., Alves, A.S, Castro, N., Chainho, P.,  Sá, E., Cancela da Fonsecade, L., Fidalgo e Costad, P., Castro, J., Canning-Clode, J., Pombo, A., amd Costa, J.L. 2019. Polychaete annelids as live bait in Portugal: Harvesting activity in brackish water systems. Ocean& Coastal Management. (Online July 20, 2019)

Newcomer, K., Tracy, B.M., Chang, A.L. and Ruiz, G.M. 2019. Evaluating Performance of Photographs for Marine Citizen Science Applications. Front. Mar. Sci., (Online 18 June 2019)

Gestoso, I., Cacabelos, E., Ramalhosa, P. and Cannhing-Clode, J. 2019. Plasticrusts: A new potential threat in the Anthropocene's rocky shores. Science of the Total Environment 687:413–415 (Online June 8, 2019)

Tagliapietra, D., Sigovini, M., Keppel, E., Guarneri, I., Palanti, S., Veronese, N., Abbate., A. 2019. Bioerosion effects of sea-level rise on the Doge’s Palace water doors in Venice (Italy). Facies:65: 34.  (online June 8, 2019)


July 29, 2019

Clark, M.S.,  Nieva, L.V.,  Hoffman, J.I.,  Davies, A.J.,  Trivedi, U.H., Turner, F., Ashton, G.V., and Peck, L.S., 2019.  Lack of long-term acclimation in Antarctic encrusting species suggests vulnerability to warming. Nature Communication 10, Article 3383

Marine encrusting communities play vital roles in benthic ecosystems and have major economic implications with regards to biofouling. However, their ability to persist under projected warming scenarios remains poorly understood and is difficult to study under realistic conditions. Here, using heated settlement panel technologies, we show that after 18 months Antarctic encrusting communities do not acclimate to either +1 °C or +2 °C above ambient temperatures. There is significant up-regulation of the cellular stress response in warmed animals, their upper lethal temperatures decline with increasing ambient temperature and population genetic analyses show little evidence of differential survival of genotypes with treatment. By contrast, biofilm bacterial communities show no significant differences in community structure with temperature. Thus, metazoan and bacterial responses differ dramatically, suggesting that ecosystem responses to future climate change are likely to be far more complex than previously anticipated.

July 20, 2019

Cabrala, S., Alves, A.S, Castro, N., Chainho, P.,  Sá, E., Cancela da Fonsecade, L., Fidalgo e Costad, P., Castro, J., Canning-Clode, J., Pombo, A., amd Costa, J.L. 2019. Polychaete annelids as live bait in Portugal: Harvesting activity in brackish water systems. Ocean& Coastal Management. 

Polychaete annelids are some of the most heavily harvested invertebrates collected in coastal areas and estuaries for their economic value as live fishing bait or as food supplement in aquaculture activities. However, information on bait digging in Portugal is scarce or incomplete. Thus, the present study aimed at investigating the bait digging activity in the four most relevant brackish water systems in Portugal: Ria de Aveiro and Ria Formosa coastal lagoons and Tagus and Sado estuaries. Direct observations were performed in each brackish water system 1 h and a half before and after the diurnal low spring tide (<0.8 m height), on working days. Additionally, logbooks were delivered to bait diggers and two types of surveys were conducted in every system: one to all the intertidal users and the other only to bait diggers.

The estimated daily weighted number of bait diggers varied between 31 in the Tagus estuary and 69 in the Ria Formosa coastal lagoon. Diopatra neapolitana (Delle Chiaje, 1841) was the main target species in Ria de Aveiro (more than 83%), Tagus estuary (more than 60%) and Ria Formosa (more than 90%), while in Sado estuary most of the bait diggers targeted Marphysa sp. (92.6%). The highest and lowest amount of polychaete annelid catches were estimated for Ria de Aveiro coastal lagoon (almost 50 tons per year) and Tagus estuary (11 tons per year), respectively. A total annual bait catch value in these four systems was estimated as €3.84 millions. The most important brackish water systems concerning bait diggers’ number and bait captures were Sado estuary and Ria de Aveiro coastal lagoon where management measures should be considered, although managing polychaete harvesting activity is still difficult due to limited information on harvesting and on direct and indirect impacts on population dynamics.


June 18, 2019

Newcomer, K., Tracy, B.M., Chang, A.L. and Ruiz, G.M. 2019. Evaluating Performance of Photographs for Marine Citizen Science Applications. Front. Mar. Sci., 

Long-term measurements are imperative to detect, understand, and predict changes in coastal biological communities, but can be both costly and difficult to implement. Here, we compare measurement methods used to document community structure and assess changes in marine systems, and explore potential applications in citizen science. The use of photographs for species identifications and monitoring has become a popular and useful data collection tool, but its use requires evaluation of its effectiveness in comparison to data collected from live examinations. We used settlement panels in San Francisco Bay, a well-studied and vital coastal ecosystem, to compare standardized measures of the invertebrate fouling community through examination of live organisms in the field and via photographs. Overall, our study found that live measurements were more accurate and better represented these marine communities, having higher richness, and diversity measurements than photographic measurements. However, photographic analyses accurately captured the relative abundances of some species and functional groups. We suggest that highly recognizable target taxa or broad scale comparisons of functional group composition are easily tracked through photographs and offer the best potential for research conducted by citizen scientists.

June 8, 2019

Gestoso, I., Cacabelos, E., Ramalhosa, P. and Cannhing-Clode, J. 2019. Plasticrusts: A new potential threat in the Anthropocene's rocky shores. Science of the Total Environment 687:413–415 (Online June 8, 2019)

Plastic debris is one of the most extensive pollution problems our planet is facing today and a particular concern for marine environment conservation. The dimension of the problem is so large that it is possible our current era will generate an anthropogenic marker horizon of plastic in earth's sedimentary record. Here we present a new type of plastic pollution, the ‘plasticrusts’, plastic debris encrusting the rocky surface, recently discovered in the intertidal rocky shores of a volcanic Atlantic island. The potential impact that these new ‘plasticrusts’ may have needs to be further explored, as e.g. potential ingestion by intertidal organisms could suppose a new pathway for entrance of plastics into marine food webs. Consequently, its inclusion as a potential new marine debris category in management and monitoring actions should be pondered.

Tagliapietra, D., Sigovini, M., Keppel, E., Guarneri, I., Palanti, S., Veronese, N., Abbate., A. 2019. Bioerosion effects of sea-level rise on the Doge’s Palace water doors in Venice (Italy). Facies:65: 34.  (online June 8, 2019)

The Doge’s Palace of Venice (Italy) has on its canal-side large doorways closed by old wooden doors. Originally, the thresholds were built above high-water level to avoid direct contact with the water and the resulting damage caused by physical and biological agents. As a result of sea-level rise and land subsidence during the last centuries, the doors are now exposed to tides and to attack by marine wood-boring invertebrates such as shipworms and gribbles. As a consequence, the bottom rails of the doors were recently in need of substantial restoration, which took into consideration new materials and techniques. In this framework, an in situ experiment was undertaken to test the resistance of some selected wood species to woodboring organisms. A quick assessment protocol, based on the EN 275 standard, was set up to quantify bioerosion according to wood species and elevation above sea level. Both European and tropical wood species were tested. The former include Scots Pine, as a reference, and Larch, Cypress and Oak as traditional carpentry materials. The latter include Azobe, Okan, and Bilinga. All the European species showed high susceptibility to woodborer attack, whereas no damage was recorded on the tropical woods. The collected shipworms belonged mostly to Lyrodus pedicellatus and Teredo bartschi with some individuals of Teredo navalis. The only species of gribble found was Limnoria tripunctata. New technical solutions were adopted in the restoration aiming to provide a long service life for the replacements and simplifying the maintenance procedures. Experience, results and solutions are presented.

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).