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.
Ruiz, G.M., B.S. Galil, I.C. Davidson, S.C. Donelan, A.W. Miller, M.S. Minton, J.R. Muirhead, H. Ojaveer, M.N. Tamburri, and J.T. Carlton. 2022. Global marine biosecurity and ship lay-ups: intensifying effects of trade disruptions. Biological Invasions. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-022-02870-y (online July, 14, 2022)
Sambolino, A., I. Herrera, S. Alvarez, A. Rosa, F. Alves, J. Canning-Clode, N. Cordeiro, A. Dinis, and M. Kaufmann. 2022. Seasonal variation in microplastics and zooplankton abundances and characteristics: The ecological vulnerability of an oceanic island system. Marine Pollution Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2022.113906 (Online July 11, 2022)
Kotta, J., M. Lenz, F.R. Barboza, H. Jänes, P. Aguilera, D. Grande, A. Beck, C. Van Colen, T. Hamm, J. Javidpour, A. Kaasik, G. Pantó R. Szava-Kovats, H. Orav-Kotta, L. Lees, S. Loite, J. Canning-Clode, S.K.M. Gueroun, and A. Kõivupuu. 2022. Blueprint for the ideal microplastic effect study: Critical issues of current experimental approaches and envisioning a path forward. Science of The Total Environment. (online June 9, 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 (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)
July 14, 2022
Ruiz, G.M., B.S. Galil, I.C. Davidson, S.C. Donelan, A.W. Miller, M.S. Minton, J.R. Muirhead, H. Ojaveer, M.N. Tamburri, and J.T. Carlton. 2022. Global marine biosecurity and ship lay-ups: intensifying effects of trade disruptions. Biological Invasions. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-022-02870-y
Recent global trade disruptions, due to blockage of the Suez Canal and cascading effects of COVID-19, have altered the movement patterns of commercial ships and may increase worldwide invasions of marine non-indigenous species. Organisms settle on the hulls and underwater surfaces of vessels and can accumulate rapidly, especially when vessels remain stationary during lay-ups and delays. Once present, organisms can persist on vessels for long-periods (months to years), with the potential to release propagules and seed invasions as ships visit ports across the global transportation network. Shipborne propagules also may be released in increasing numbers during extended vessel residence times at port or anchor. Thus, the large scale of shipping disruptions, impacting thousands of vessels and geographic locations and still on-going for over two years, may elevate invasion rates in coastal ecosystems in the absence of policy and management efforts to prevent this outcome. Concerted international and national biosecurity actions, mobilizing existing frameworks and tools with due diligence, are urgently needed to address a critical gap and abate the associated invasion risks.
July 11, 2022
Sambolino, A., I. Herrera, S. Alvarez, A. Rosa, F. Alves, J. Canning-Clode, N. Cordeiro, A. Dinis, and M. Kaufmann. 2022. Seasonal variation in microplastics and zooplankton abundances and characteristics: The ecological vulnerability of an oceanic island system. Marine Pollution Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2022.113906
The ingestion of microplastics (MPs - plastic particles <5 mm) by planktivorous organisms represents a significant threat to marine food webs. To investigate how seasonality might affect plastic intake in oceanic islands' ecosystems, relative abundances and composition of MPs and mesozooplankton samples collected off Madeira Island (NE Atlantic) between February 2019 and January 2020 were analysed. MPs were found in all samples, with fibres accounting for 89 % of the particles. MPs and zooplankton mean abundance was 0.262 items/m3 and 18.137 individuals/m3 , respectively. Their monthly variations follow the seasonal fluctuation of environmental parameters, such as currents, chlorophyll-a concentration, sea surface temperature and precipitation intensity. A higher MPs/zooplankton ratio was recorded in the warm season (May-Oct), reaching 0.068 items/individual when considering large-sized particles (1000–5000 μm). This is the first study to assess the seasonal variability of MPs in an oceanic island system providing essential information respecting its ecological impact in pelagic environments.
June 9, 2022
Kotta, J., M. Lenz, F.R. Barboza, H. Jänes, P. Aguilera, D. Grande, A. Beck, C. Van Colen, T. Hamm, J. Javidpour, A. Kaasik, G. Pantó R. Szava-Kovats, H. Orav-Kotta, L. Lees, S. Loite, J. Canning-Clode, S.K.M. Gueroun, and A. Kõivupuu. 2022. Blueprint for the ideal microplastic effect study: Critical issues of current experimental approaches and envisioning a path forward. Science of The Total Environment.
This article presents a novel conceptual blueprint for an ‘ideal’, i.e., ecologically relevant, microplastic effect study. The blueprint considers how microplastics should be characterized and applied in laboratory experiments, and how biological responses should be measured to assure unbiased data that reliably reflect the effects of microplastics on aquatic biota. This ‘ideal’ experiment, although practically unachievable, serves as a backdrop to improve specific aspects of experimental research on microplastic effects. In addition, a systematic and quantitative literature review identified and quantified departures of published experiments from the proposed ‘ideal’ design. These departures are related mainly to the experimental design of microplastic effect studies failing to mimic natural environments, and experiments with limited potential to be scaled-up to ecosystem level. To produce a valid and generalizable assessment of the effect of microplastics on biota, a quantitative meta-analysis was performed that incorporated the departure of studies from the ‘ideal’ experiment (a measure of experimental quality) and inverse variance (a measure of the study precision) as weighting coefficients. Greater weights were assigned to experiments with higher quality and/or with lower variance in the response variables. This double-weighting captures jointly the technical quality, ecological relevance and precision of estimates provided in each study. The blueprint and associated meta-analysis provide an improved baseline for the design of ecologically relevant and technically sound experiments to understand the effects of microplastics on single species, populations and, ultimately, entire ecosystems.
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 Canning‑Clode, J. 2022. Role of non‑indigenous 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.
Distribution & Occurrence
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.
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.
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.
Management and Policy
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.
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.
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.
Predator Prey Interactions
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.
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.
Propagule Pressure in Marine Habitats
Host Parasite Interactions
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).