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. 

Davidson, I., Scianni, C., Minton, M., Ruiz, G. 2018. A history of ship specialization and consequences for marine invasions, management, and policy. Journal of Applied Ecology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.13114/pdf (Online February 19, 2018).

Miller, A.W., Davidson, I., Minton, M.S., Steves, B., Moser, C.S., Drake, L.A., Ruiz, G.M. 2018. Evaluation of wetted surface area of commercial ships as biofouling habitat flux to the United States. Biological Invasions. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-018-1672-9 (Online February 8, 2018).

Therriault, T.W., Nelson, J.C., Carlton, J.T., Liggan, L., Otani, M., Kawai, H., Scriven, D., Ruiz, G.M., Clarke Murray, C. 2018. The invasion risk of species associated with Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris in Pacific North America and Hawaii. Marine Pollution Bulletin. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.12.063 (online January 28, 2018)

Zabin, C.J., Marraffini, M., Lonhart, S.I. McCann, L., Ceballos, L., King, C., Watanabe, J. Pearse, J.S., and Ruiz, G.M. 2018. Non-native species colonization of highly diverse, wave swept outer coast habitats in Central California. Marine Biology 165: 31. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-018-3284-4 January 18, 2018

Carlos, S., Martins, G.M., Hernández, J. C., Alves, F., Neto, A.I., Ribeiro, C.,  León-Cisneros, K., Canning-Clode, J., Rosas-Alquicira, E., Mendoza, J.C., Titley, I., Wallenstein, F., Couto., R.P, and Kaufmann, M. 2018. Shallow subtidal macroalgae in the North-eastern Atlantic archipelagos (Macaronesian region): a spatial approach to community structure. European Journal of Phycology, DOI: 10.1080/09670262.2017.1385098 January 18, 2018


Abstracts

February 19, 2018

Davidson, I., Scianni, C., Minton, M., Ruiz, G. 2018. A history of ship specialization and consequences for marine invasions, management, and policy. Journal of Applied Ecology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.13114/pdf 

1. Propagule pressure plays a key role in the successful establishment of introduced species. Explaining invasion patterns, predicting future invasions and reducing invasion rates are priority areas of research and management, especially in marine systems, which need more detailed correlates and invasion predictors.

2. The commercial maritime shipping fleet is the most prolific long distance anthropogenic transfer mechanism (vector) of marine non-indigenous species on a global scale, causing invasions of coasts by a wide diversity of organisms. Although most vessel arrivals provide an opportunity for organism introductions, there are often substantial differences among ship types—in both their “morphological traits” (structural design) and “behavioural ecology” (cargo delivery model and operational tempo)—that influence propagule delivery by ballast water and biofouling, the two dominant sources or sub-vectors for ship-mediated species transfers.

3. We reviewed ship specialization and its implications for marine invasion and vector management. First, we identified factors that affect ship-mediated propagule delivery characteristics (number, identity, diversity and quality/condition), classifying these as ship type independent or dependent factors. Second, we compared the relevance of these factors for both ballast water and biofouling. Third, we estimated and compared the magnitude of several key factors affecting propagule delivery among seven major ship types.

4. Typical voyage speed varies by 74% and port residence time varies sixfold among ship types. Similarly, typical ballast water discharge varies by an order of magnitude among ship types. These and other ship type dependent factors affect propagule delivery characteristics, resulting in uneven magnitude of species transfer among ship types.

5. Policy implications. Variation among commercial ship types is rarely integrated into analyses of marine bioinvasions and proxy measures of propagule delivery. Their inclusion may lead to more robust explanation, prediction and management of marine invasions. Risk analyses that account for differences among ship types and prevailing traffic directionality will likely offer greater insight than null models, which treat ships equally. Furthermore, ballast treatment technologies and hull husbandry may advance to reduce species transfers more effectively when tailored for different ship types, recognizing the variation and operational constraints (that affect propagule delivery) among the diverse range of ship types.

February 8, 2018

Davidson, I., Scianni, C., Minton, M., Ruiz, G. 2018. A history of ship specialization and consequences for marine invasions, management, and policy. Journal of Applied Ecology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.13114/pdf

Commercial ships inadvertently transfervast numbers of living organisms beyond their evolu-tionary ranges, sometimes resulting in invasions ofdistant marine habitats. Biofouling on ship hullstranslocate organisms that cling to the undersidesand interstices of ships that function as hard substratehabitat for biota. Because biofouling accumulates overspace and time continua lly, it poses risk to all portsvisited. To better understand the potential magnitudeof the biofouling vector in the United States, wecompiled information on ship-specific dimensions aswell as actual arrival histories of the fleets of shipscalling at U.S. ports (2011–2014) in an effort tocalculate wetted surface area (WSA) flux to the U.S.The annual mean flux of WSA from overseas biore-gions to the U.S. is 333 km2year-1. An additional177 km2year-1of WSA moves among the eightdistinct biogeographic regions of the lower 48 UnitedStates. We confirm that over 90% of all global marinebioregions (120 of 132 identified by IUCN) are visitedby commercial ships within five port calls of arrivingto the U.S. Our analysis is the first ever to quantify theextent of WSA flux among global marine bior egionsand underscores the urgent need for managementapproaches and technologies that will reduce associ-ated invasion risks.

January 28, 2018

Therriault, T.W., Nelson, J.C., Carlton, J.T., Liggan, L., Otani, M., Kawai, H., Scriven, D., Ruiz, G.M., Clarke Murray, C. 2018. The invasion risk of species associated with Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris in Pacific North America and Hawaii. Marine Pollution Bulletin. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.12.063 (online January 28, 2018)

Marine debris from the Great Tsunami of 2011 represents a unique transport vector for Japanese species to reach Pacific North America and Hawaii. Here we characterize the invasion risk of invertebrate species associated with tsunami debris using a screening-level risk assessment tool - the Canadian Marine Invasive Screening Tool (CMIST). Higher-risk invertebrate invaders were identified for each of five different ecoregions. Some of these are well-known global invaders, such as the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis and the ascidian Didemnum vexillum which already have invasion histories in some of the assessed ecoregions, while others like the sea star Asterias amurensis and the shore crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus have yet to invade large portions of the assessed ecoregions but also are recognized global invaders. In general, the probability of invasion was lower for the Gulf of Alaska and Hawaii, in part due to lower climate matches and the availability of other invasion vectors.

January 18, 2018

Zabin, C.J., Marraffini, M., Lonhart, S.I. McCann, L., Ceballos, L., King, C., Watanabe, J. Pearse, J.S., and Ruiz, G.M. 2018. Non-native species colonization of highly diverse, wave swept outer coast habitats in Central California. Marine Biology 165: 31. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-018-3284-4 

More non-native species (NNS) are reported from harbors, estuaries and protected embayments than in wave-exposed, open-coast habitats. In California (USA), hundreds of NNS have become established in international ports, and dozens are known from smaller estuaries. In contrast, only 22 NNS are reported from the state’s 1350 km of open coast. As a result, the perception that open-coast habitats are not vulnerable to invasions has persisted. Management and monitoring focuses on ports and estuaries; the last major monitoring effort on the open coast occurred in 2004. Much of the species-rich Central California coast is now part of a network of marine protected areas (MPAs). We surveyed 12 wave-swept rocky intertidal and eight subtidal sites (from 37°53′40N 122°42′30W to 36°31′16N 121°56′22W) for NNS. At least one NNS was detected at half of the sites surveyed, but most were not widespread or abundant. One exception, a bryozoan in the Watersipora spp. complex, known primarily from ports and estuaries, was found at multiple sites, and was abundant at some. Another non-native, the alga Caulacanthus ustulatus, was abundant at a single site. MPAs were just as likely as sites outside of MPAs to have NNS. For subtidal sites, proximity to a harbor was correlated with the abundance of non-natives. Our findings suggest that our study area is still relatively uninvaded, but the success of Watersipora within some of these highly diverse rocky shore sites underscores the potential vulnerability of high-value open-coast systems to invasions.

Carlos, S., Martins, G.M., Hernández, J. C., Alves, F., Neto, A.I., Ribeiro, C.,  León-Cisneros, K., Canning-Clode, J., Rosas-Alquicira, E., Mendoza, J.C., Titley, I., Wallenstein, F., Couto., R.P, and Kaufmann, M. 2018. Shallow subtidal macroalgae in the North-eastern Atlantic archipelagos (Macaronesian region): a spatial approach to community structure. European Journal of Phycology, DOI: 10.1080/09670262.2017.1385098 

Shallow subtidal macroalgal communities in the North-eastern Atlantic archipelagos (Azores, Madeira, Canaries and Cape Verde) were studied in order to identify their spatial organization patterns and the main drivers of change. Fifteen islands and 145 sites across 15o of latitude and 2850 km were sampled. We found high spatial variability across the scales considered (archipelago, island and site). The structure of macroalgal communities differed among archipelagos, except between Madeira and the Canaries, which were similar. Across a latitudinal gradient, macroalgal communities in the Azores were clearly separated from the other archipelagos; communities in Madeira and the Canaries occupied an intermediate position, while those in Cape Verde appeared at the opposite end of the gradient. In the Azores, species with warm-temperate affinities dominated communities. Cape Verde communities were, in contrast, dominated by tropical taxa, whereas in the subtropical Canaries and Madeira there was a mixture of species with colder and warmer affinities. Apart from crustose coralline algae, the Dictyotales were the group with greatest cover; larger and longer-lived species were progressively replaced by short-lived species along a latitudinal gradient from north to south. The perennial species Zonaria tournefortii dominated the sea-bottom in the Azores, the semi-perennial Lophophora variegata in the Canaries, the filamentous algae in Madeira and the ephemeral Dictyota dichotoma in Cape Verde. We hypothesized that the differences among archipelagos could be explained by synergies between temperature and herbivory, which increased in diversity southwards, especially in Cape Verde. This was supported by the predominance of non-crustose macroalgae in the Azores and of crustose macroalgae in Cape Verde, as would be predicted from the greater herbivore activity. At the scale of islands and sites, the same set of environmental variables drove differences in macroalgal community structure across all the Macaronesian archipelagos.

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).