Studying exotics in their native range: can introduced fouling amphipods expand beyond artificial habitats?
Knowledge of the habitat use patterns of introduced species in their native or naturalized range can provide unique insights into processes of secondary dispersal and colonization of natural habitats. Caprellid amphipods are small mobile marine epibionts with limited natural dispersal. The global distribution of some caprellid species is mostly the result of anthropogenic transport; however, their subsequent spread beyond artificial habitats is poorly understood. A biogeographic approach, mainly focused on the native-range ecology of introduced and common fouling caprellid amphipods of southern Europe, was used to understand the implications of habitat use patterns for predicting their spread in the introduced regions. Specifically, abundance and composition of caprellid populations were compared among different primary habitats including artificial (floating pontoons), sheltered and wave-exposed rocky shores along the southern and southeastern coasts of Brazil. The findings indicated that artificial habitats act as reservoirs for globally distributed species in both their native and introduced ranges, while endemic species are more scarcely represented. Environmental conditions provided by primary habitats appear important in structuring caprellid assemblages on secondary substrata (basibiont species). Most wide-ranging caprellids were negatively correlated with the level of wave exposure, being more abundant in sheltered (artificial or natural) than in exposed habitats. In this context, Caprella scaura and Paracaprella pusilla, the two introduced caprellids recorded in the Mediterranean, where they are virtually restricted to artificial habitats, may become established in sheltered and even highly polluted natural habitats but hardly colonize wave-exposed rocky shores.