Population dynamics of the invasive bryozoan Membranipora membranacea along a 450-km latitudinal range in the subarctic northwestern Atlantic.
Thermal environment is often regarded as a key determinant of distribution limits in marine invertebrates and hence may represent one of the most important barriers to invasion by non-indigenous species. For the first time in the subarctic northwestern Atlantic, we investigated variation in the timing and magnitude of settlement, recruitment, and colony cover of the recently (early 2000s) introduced bryozoan Membranipora membranacea on the kelp Saccharina longicruris and how this variation relates to changes in sea temperature (thermal histories) across eight sites spanning a 450-km latitudinal range between southwestern Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador, Canada. We show that (1) up to 61% of the variation in settlement, recruitment, and colony cover was explained by sea temperature alone, with highest and lowest abundances at warmest and coldest sites, respectively; (2) between-site differences in rates of sea cooling explained 85% of the variation in settler abundance; (3) varying the temporal window over which data were aggregated increased the explanatory power of sea temperature to as much as 98% for settlement and recruitment, and 86% for colony cover; (4) exposure to waves and surface area of colonies improved relationships between sea temperature and settlement and recruitment by up to 11%; and (5) recruit abundance was a strong predictor of colony cover, explaining as much as 89% of the variation. Consistently low abundances of settlers and recruits at the northern tip of Newfoundland and southern tip of Labrador suggest that M. membranacea is nearing its northern distribution limit in the northwestern Atlantic. Our findings extend knowledge of population dynamics of M. membranacea in the northwestern Atlantic, while highlighting the complexity of the interactions between physical and biological factors and processes that affect population dynamics in invertebrates with planktonic larvae in predominantly cold marine habitats.