Do low oxygen environments facilitate marine invasions? Relative tolerance of native and invasive species to low oxygen conditions

Photo credit: JP Krajewski


Biological invasions are one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity. Marine artificial structures are proliferating worldwide and provide a haven for marine invasive species. Such structures disrupt local hydrodynamics, which can lead to the formation of oxygen-depleted microsites. The extent to which native fauna can cope with such low oxygen conditions, and whether invasive species, long associated with artificial structures in flow-restricted habitats, have adapted to these conditions remains unclear. We measured water flow and oxygen availability in marinas and piers at the scales relevant to sessile marine invertebrates (mm). We then measured the capacity of invasive and native marine invertebrates to maintain metabolic rates under decreasing levels of oxygen using standard laboratory assays. We found that marinas reduce water flow relative to piers, and that local oxygen levels can be zero in low flow conditions. We also found that for species with erect growth forms, invasive species can tolerate much lower levels of oxygen relative to native species. Integrating the field and laboratory data showed that up to 30% of available microhabitats within low flow environments are physiologically stressful for native species, while only 18% of the same habitat is physiologically stressful for invasive species. These results suggest that invasive species have adapted to low oxygen habitats associated with manmade habitats, and artificial structures may be creating niche opportunities for invasive species.

Global Change Biology, 23: 2321–2330.