Air temperature and winter mortality: implications for the persistence of the invasive mussel, Perna viridis in the intertidal zone of the south-eastern United States.
Global climate change and invasive species represent two of the biggest threats to the environment. Biological communities are responding to global climate change through poleward shifts in distribution, and changes in abundance and phenology of both native and non-native species. An increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events is predicted with global climate change. Much is known about mortality events of marine organisms in relation to warm thermal stress with relatively little known about cold thermal stress, particularly in the tropics. Intertidal species are particularly susceptible to fluctuations in aerial conditions and many are considered indicators of climate change. Perna viridis is a recent invader to the United States where it fouls hard substrates and soft sediment habitats. During winter 2007/08, a mortality event was observed for P. viridis across Tampa Bay, Florida. This mortality event coincided with extreme weather conditions when air temperatures dropped below 2°C for a period of 6 h during low water. The minimum air temperature recorded was 0.53°C. During this period water temperature remained relatively constant (∼20°C). We provide strong evidence supporting the hypothesis that thermal stress relating to exposure to cold air temperatures during emersion was the primary factor underpinning the mortality event. Similar mortality events occurred in 2009 and 2010, also coinciding with prolonged exposure to low air temperatures. In the short term, weather may be responsible for the temporary trimming back of populations at the edge of their geographic range but in the longer-term, it is expected that climate warming will trigger the poleward movement of both native and non-native species potentially facilitating biotic homogenisation of marine communities. The challenge now is to devise adaptive management strategies in order to mitigate any potential negative impacts to native biodiversity.