Invasive species: Understanding the threat before it's too late

Mar 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —Catching rides on cargo ships and fishing boats, many invasive species are now covering our shorelines and compromising the existence of our native marine life.

In a study published in Ecology Letters, Northeastern University Prof. David Kimbro and his team examine what factors allow some to survive in their new environments and others to fail.

Once invasive species arrive in their new location, they begin multiplying, and in some cases, overpowering the local . This can have a very strong impact on our ecosystems and businesses, such as fisheries.

Understanding what makes these invaders thrive or fail in their new environments is not only key to preventing the collapse of local marine life, but also figuring out ways to make some invaders work to benefit their new locations. "Not all invasive species are bad. In fact, we need some of them to succeed. But invasions are certainly a double-edged sword because many invasions cost us a lot in terms of money and ."

Data collection

Prof. Kimbro, currently stationed at Northeastern University's Marine Science Center in Nahant, collected synthesized research on marine diversity reports published from 1997-2012 to better understand the specific biological and environmental properties that allow invasive species to succeed or fail.

"For the past 15 years, marine scientists have conducted a lot of experiments that have taught us a lot about specific invasions in many different places. But unlike terrestrial scientists, no one had pieced all of these unique stories together to see if they collectively tell us a general and useful message. And until we see cattle swimming and kudzu growing in the ocean, we can't just recycle the messages from land studies and use them to manage our ."

Opening the door to new discoveries

Prof. Kimbro and his team also discovered that invasion outcomes differ strongly throughout the sea because of at least three to four factors that no one, until now, had quite put their finger on yet. This discovery has opened the door to some fertile grounds of new marine research projects that will be developed at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center as part of the Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative.

Explore further: Food affected by Fukushima disaster harms animals, even at low-levels of radiation

More information: Ecology Letters doi.wiley.com/10.1111/ele.12106

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