Predicting the dispersal potential of an invasive polychaete pest along a complex coastal biome.
Boccardia proboscidea is a recently introduced polychaete in South Africa where it is a notorious pest of commercially reared abalone. Populations were originally restricted to abalone farms but a recent exodus into the wild at some localities has raised conservation concerns due to the species' invasive status in other parts of the world. Here, we assessed the dispersal potential of B. proboscidea by using a population genetic and oceanographic modeling approach. Since the worm is in its incipient stages of a potential invasion, we used the closely related Polydora hoplura as a proxy due its similar reproductive strategy and its status as a pest of commercially reared oysters in the country. Populations of P. hoplura were sampled from seven different localities and a section of the mtDNA gene, Cyt b and the intron ATPSa was amplified. A high resolution model of the coastal waters around southern Africa was constructed using the Regional Ocean Modeling System. Larvae were represented by passive drifters that were deployed at specific points along the coast and dispersal was quantified after a 12-month integration period. Our results showed discordance between the genetic and modeling data. There was low genetic structure (Φ=0.04 for both markers) and no geographic patterning of mtDNA and nDNA haplotypes. However, the dispersal model found limited connectivity around Cape Point - a major phylogeographic barrier on the southern African coast. This discordance was attributed to anthropogenic movement of larvae and adult worms due to vectors such as aquaculture and shipping. As such, we hypothesized that cryptic dispersal could be overestimating genetic connectivity. Though wild populations of B. proboscidea could become isolated due to the Cape Point barrier, anthropogenic movement may play the critical role in facilitating the dispersal and spread of this species on the southern African coast.