Manipulating propagule pressure to test the invasibility of subtidal marine habitats.
Global patterns show that estuaries are more invaded than open coasts and artificial habitats are more invaded than natural ones. The contention that artificial habitats in estuaries are more invasible than other habitats may result from variation in propagule supply, however, as artificial habitats are closely linked to vectors of non-native propagules, such as ships and boats. True comparisons of habitat invasibility require manipulations of propagule pressure, which has been historically difficult in marine systems. Using in-situ larval dosing, we delivered propagules of the widespread invasive ascidian Botrylloides violaceus into field mesocosms and assessed how habitat type (floating dock vs. benthic rock), resource availability (occupied vs. unoccupied plates), and propagule number (5, 25 and 50 larvae 225 cm-2) affected settlement (survival after 24 h) and recruitment (survival after 56 days) success. In-situ larval dosing was successful, and after eight weeks there were significant differences in recruitment due to initial dose-size, habitat type, and space availability. At the habitat scale, despite equal propagule delivery, PVC plates in natural benthic rock were not equally invasible and few propagules survived to recruitment. At the organism scale, increased habitat complexity, through facilitation by established fouling species, rather than freedom from space competitors, appears to be more important for B. violaceus to establish. Our results offer greater mechanistic understanding of broader invasion patterns between artificial and natural habitats. This work extends the possibilities for further research to counteract the confounding issue of unknown and unknowable propagule delivery when attempting to explain variation in invasion success.