Online auction marketplaces as a global pathway for aquatic invasive species.
The ornamental aquarium pet trade is a leading pathway for the introduction of aquatic invasive species. In addition to purchasing live organisms in stores, hobbyists are engaging more with alternative informal online marketplaces that enable peer-to-peer selling of aquarium organisms via auctions. Although growing in popularity, little is known regarding the global extent of informal marketplaces, including the taxonomy of species that are traded, their economic value, and the geographic routes by which live organisms are transported. In this study we use an automated web crawler to collect data on completed auctions between 2011 and 2017 from the largest informal market for aquarium hobbyists, AquaBid, to understand the market dynamics and trade flows of the informal retail market online. During the 7-year study period, the AquaBid website facilitated the estimated trade of 539,548 live freshwater animals, 579,700 fish eggs, and 31,431 plant assortments/bunches among 24,409 unique users who collectively placed 444,132 bids on 192,227 auctions, representing a total sale value of $6,015,030 USD. Source (seller) and recipient (buyer) locations of live organisms were distributed across 39 countries but concentrated largely in major cities of the United States and select European and southeast Asian countries. Our study is among the first to quantify geographic routes of live organism transport between specific locations on the landscape and demonstrates the highly diffuse and non-centralized nature of the informal aquarium trade. Evaluating the emerging challenges represented by informal online retail marketplaces is critical to create policy and regulatory solutions that minimize the transport of prohibited invasive species.