Stage-specific overcompensation, the Hydra effect, and the failure to eradicate an invasive predator.
As biological invasions continue to increase globally, eradication programs have been undertaken at significant cost, often without consideration of relevant ecological theory. Theoretical fisheries models have shown that harvest can actually increase the equilibrium size of a population, and uncontrolled studies and anecdotal reports have documented population increases in response to invasive species removal (akin to fisheries harvest). Both findings may be driven by high levels of juvenile survival associated with low adult abundance, often referred to as overcompensation. Here we show that in a coastal marine ecosystem, an eradication program resulted in stage-specific overcompensation and a 30-fold, single-year increase in the population of an introduced predator. Data collected concurrently from four adjacent regional bays without eradication efforts showed no similar population increase, indicating a local and not a regional increase. Specifically, the eradication program had inadvertently reduced the control of recruitment by adults via cannibalism, thereby facilitating the population explosion. Mesocosm experiments confirmed that adult cannibalism of recruits was size-dependent and could control recruitment. Genomic data show substantial isolation of this population and implicate internal population dynamics for the increase, rather than recruitment from other locations. More broadly, this controlled experimental demonstration of stage-specific overcompensation in an aquatic system provides an important cautionary message for eradication efforts of species with limited connectivity and similar life histories.