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Do the tropics better resist invasive species?

April 28, 2014

Do the tropics better resist invasive species?

The experiments are done in collaboration with scientists at the SERC and aim to determine what controls the distribution and abundance of introduced marine species

When most people see the tiny square PVC plates Carmen Schlöder collects from Pacific and Caribbean sites off the coast of Panama, they see a slimy — some say gross — mess of unrecognizable sea creatures. Schlöder sees the beauty of a garden or the intricacies of a city skyline in the complex, highly diverse marine invertebrates that colonize the plates.

“Nobody really cares about those organisms but if you explain what they are and show people the colorful things that move and breathe, they find it really cool,” said Schlöder, a marine ecologist who works with Mark Torchin at STRI.

The experiments are done in collaboration with scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) and aim to determine what controls the distribution and abundance of introduced marine species. They test how biotic interactions like predation, competition and parasitism influence species diversity, community composition, and invasion.

Marine invasions are on the rise due to increased commercial and recreational sea traffic and the Panama Canal is an exceptional place to begin. The team aims to replicate the study across latitudes all the way to Alaska.

“We’re starting to see new organisms from all over the place,” said Schlöder. “The big hypothesis is that the tropics are less affected by invasive species because diversity is much higher than in temperate zones. We hope to test that.”

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