Predicting regional spread of non-native species using oceanographic models: validation and identification of gaps.
Predicting spread is a central goal of invasion ecology. Within marine systems, researchers have increasingly made use of oceanographic circulation models to estimate currents and track species dispersal. However, the accuracy of these models for predicting biological patterns, particularly for non-native species, has generally not been validated. Particularly, we wished to examine the ability of models to predict physical and biological processes, which jointly determine the spread of marine larval organisms. We conducted two empirical studies - a recruitment study and a drift card study - along the coast of New England, USA, focusing on two invaders of concern - the European green crab (Carcinus maenas) and the Asian shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus), to explicitly evaluate the ability of oceanographic models to predict patterns of spread. We used data from the large-scale drift card study to validate our ability to capture dispersal patterns driven purely by physical processes. Next, we conducted a recruitment study to evaluate our ability to reproduce patterns of biological dispersal. We were generally capable of reproducing drift cards patterns - suggesting that the physical mechanics in the model were predictive. However, predicted biological patterns were inconsistent - we were able to predict dispersal patterns for H. sanguineus but not for C. maenas. Our results highlight the importance of validating models and suggest that more work is necessary before we can reliably use oceanographic models to predict biological spread of intertidal organisms.