A risk assessment of aquarium trade introductions of seaweed in European waters.
Aquaculture and maritime traffic have been identified as the main vectors for introductions of alien marine species. Except for one notorious case of Caulerpa taxifolia, the role of aquarium trade towards the introduction of alien seaweeds has been largely unassessed. Here, we address the risk of accidental release of seaweed species from the aquarium trade market in European waters. We assessed the importance and diversity of seaweed species in the European online aquarium retail circuit. Our web survey revealed more than 30 genera available for online sale into Europe, including known introduced and invasive species. A second aspect of the study consisted in sampling algal diversity found in aquaria. While allowing direct and accurate identification of the specimens, this approach was targeting not only ornamental species, but also seaweeds that may be accidentally present in the aquarium circuit. By DNA-barcoding we identified no less than 134 taxa, 7 of which are flagged as introduced in Europe and 5 reported as invasive. Climate envelope models show that at least 23 aquarium species have the potential to thrive in European waters. As expected by the tropical conditions in most aquaria, southern Atlantic regions of Europe and the Mediterranean are the most vulnerable towards new introductions. Further predictions show that this risk will increase and shift northwards as global warming proceeds. Overall our data indicate that aquarium trade poses a potential risk of new seaweed introductions, and calls for a cautious approach.