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Invasion trajectory of Pacific oysters in the northern Wadden Sea

Reise, Karsten, Buschbaum, Christian, Büttger, Heike, Rick, Johannes, Wegner, K.Mathias
Marine biology 2017 v.164 no.4 pp. 68
Crassostrea gigas, Mytilus edulis, adults, estuaries, feral animals, global warming, ice, introduced species, longevity, mortality, mussels, oyster culture, oysters, summer, weather, winter, North Sea
Invasion trajectories of introduced alien species usually begin with a long establishment phase of low abundance, often followed by exponential expansion and subsequent adjustment phases. We review the first 26 years of feral Pacific oysters Crassostrea gigas around the island of Sylt in the Wadden Sea (North Sea, NE Atlantic), and reveal causal conditions for the invasion phases. Sea-based oyster farming with repeated introductions made establishment of feral oysters almost inevitable. Beds of mussels Mytilus edulis on mud flats offered firm substrate for attachment and ideal growth conditions around low tide level. C. gigas mapped on to the spatial pattern of mussel beds. During the 1990s, cold summers often hampered recruitment and abundances remained low but oyster longevity secured persistence. Since the 2000s, summers were often warmer and recruitment more regular. Young oysters attached to adult oysters and abundances of >1000 m⁻² were achieved. However, peak abundance was followed by recruitment failure. The population declined and then was also struck by ice winters causing high mortality. Recovery was fast (>2000 m⁻²) but then recruitment failed again. We expect adjustment phase will proceed with mean abundance of about 1000 m⁻² but density-dependent (e.g., diseases) and density-independent (e.g., weather anomalies) events causing strong fluctuations. With continued global warming, feral C. gigas at the current invasion fronts in British estuaries and Scandinavian fjords may show similar adjustment trajectories as observed in the northern Wadden Sea, and also other marine introductions may follow the invasion trajectory of Pacific oysters.