MAE: Invasive species

Invasive species are non-indigenous species that have been able to succesfully settle and reproduce in areas where they did not use to occur. They are considered the second most important threat to biodiversity after habitat loss, and they can have strong ecological and economic impacts on local ecosystems. Marine Animal Ecology studies the spread of invasive species and works on the early detection of their presence.

Initial effects of invasive species may be subtle, but consequences can be large when impacting ecosystem stability or fisheries' catch. Therefore, early detection and recognition of potentially invasive species is crucial for their management. Rapid detection is possible using genetic tools. These are being developed for the North Sea, the Arctic and other marine enviornments.

Aliens in the Artic

Marine alien species can be accidentally transported to the Arctic via ships. For instance, the beaches of Svalbard are a likely entry point for invasive species. The Aliens on the Beach project focusses on setting physical, biological and ecological baselines to describe the current beaches and the species present. Understanding interactions between beach characteristics and invasability is important for environmental monitoring and management.

Shipping thus is the most common vector of transporting species to the Arctic. With the melting of ice in polar regions, new shipping routes are becoming available. Arctic Aliens focusses on developing efficient methods to detect presence of invasive species using DNA barcoding. While prevention is better than the cure, if alien species are introduced, early detection is essential to successful management.

In order to determine the baseline of species that are present in the Arctic and the accurateness of the data, a project is working on the adequacy of Arctic marine data.

An invasive colony-building tunicate (Botrylloides violaceus). Photo: Dr. R. Nijland.
An invasive colony-building tunicate (Botrylloides violaceus). Photo: Dr. R. Nijland.

Techniques used & Implications

To allow for early detection of invasive species, Marine Animal Ecology performs field monitoring and uses molecular techniques. When we can accurately and rapidly detect invasive species we can better manage ecosystems to work towards climate resilience.