Early detection of marine invasive species following the deployment of an artificial reef: integrating tools to assist the decision-making process.
Early detection and rapid response plans are a set of principles to reduce the establishment, spread and impact of invasive species and it is a critical step in management in marine ecosystems. Two potentially invasive ascidians attached to the hull of a recently sunk fishing vessel were early detected in Patagonia. With the aim of assisting in the management decision-making process during the early steps of a rapid response, we conducted several analyses through different approaches. First, we identified the species through classic taxonomical and genetic analyses. Then, we evaluated the regional and international shipping connectivity to study potential donor regions and finally, we used species distribution models (SDMs) to predict the potential distribution of these species. The potentially invasive ascidians were identified as Styela clava and Styela plicata, and this is the first record for both species in the Nuevo gulf, Patagonia Argentina. Both species have a widespread distribution around the world with strong ecological and economic impacts documented. Shipping traffic analysis suggested that S. plicata could have arrived by secondary spread from regional ports, while the arrival of S. clava was likely to be associated with international shipping traffic. Furthermore, the SDM predicted that S. clava has suitable coastal areas along the entire Southwestern Atlantic shoreline, where it is currently absent. On the contrary, the SDM predicted that further southward spread of S. plicata is unlikely, being limited by the minimum annual temperature. We discussed the different approaches, tools, and expertise integrated in this work in the light of the decision-making process for the early detection of marine invasive species in the Southwestern Atlantic. Moreover, we call attention to the increased creation of artificial habitats through the intentional sinking of ships and the potential consequences of these actions in the conservation of marine ecosystems.