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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jan 25;102(4):1088-91. Epub 2005 Jan 18.

Recent biological invasion may hasten invasional meltdown by accelerating historical introductions.

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Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Biological invasions are rapidly producing planet-wide changes in biodiversity and ecosystem function. In coastal waters of the U.S., >500 invaders have become established, and new introductions continue at an increasing rate. Although most species have little impact on native communities, some initially benign introductions may occasionally turn into damaging invasions, although such introductions are rarely documented. Here, I demonstrate that a recently introduced crab has resulted in the rapid spread and increase of an introduced bivalve that had been rare in the system for nearly 50 yr. This increase has occurred through the positive indirect effects of predation by the introduced crab on native bivalves. I used field and laboratory experiments to show that the mechanism is size-specific predation interacting with the different reproductive life histories of the native (protandrous hermaphrodite) and the introduced (dioecious) bivalves. These results suggest that positive interactions among the hundreds of introduced species that are accumulating in coastal systems could result in the rapid transformation of previously benign introductions into aggressively expanding invasions. Even if future management efforts reduce the number of new introductions, given the large number of species already present, there is a high potential for positive interactions to produce many future management problems. Given that invasional meltdown is now being documented in natural systems, I suggest that coastal systems may be closer to this threshold than currently believed.

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