Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Effects of invasive seaweeds on feeding preference and performance of a keystone Mediterranean herbivore.

Abstract

The consequences of invasive species on ecosystem processes and ecological interactions remain poorly understood. Predator-prey interactions are fundamental in shaping species evolution and community structure and can be strongly modified by species introductions. To fully understand the ecological effects of invasive species on trophic linkages it is important to characterize novel interactions between native predators and exotic prey and to identify the impacts of invasive species on the performance of native predators. Although seaweed invasions are a growing global concern, our understanding of invasive algae-herbivore interactions is still very limited. We used a series of feeding experiments between a native herbivore and four invasive algae in the Mediterranean Sea to examine the potential of native sea urchins to consume invasive seaweeds and the impacts of invasive seaweed on herbivore performance. We found that three of the four invasive species examined are avoided by native herbivores, and that feeding behaviour in sea urchins is not driven by plant nutritional quality. On the other hand, Caulerpa racemosa is readily consumed by sea urchins, but may escape enemy control by reducing their performance. Recognizing the negative impacts of C. racemosa on herbivore performance has highlighted an enemy escape mechanism that contributes to explaining how this widespread invasive alga, which is preferred and consumed by herbivores, is not eradicated by grazing in the field. Furthermore, given the ecological and economic importance of sea urchins, negative impacts of invasive seaweeds on their performance could have dramatic effects on ecosystem function and services, and should be accounted for in sea urchin population management strategies.