Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Alien species database

We developed an online information system on aquatic non-indigenous and cryptogenic species (AquaNIS) designed to assemble, store and disseminate comprehensive data on organisms introduced to marine, brackish and coastal freshwater environments of Europe and neighbouring regions, and assist the evaluation of the progress made towards achieving biological invasion management goals.


AquaNIS inherited and incorporated multiple NIS data collections from earlier projects and initiatives to which the VECTORS partners contributed, acknowledged in the Credits section of AquaNIS ( An important feature of this system is its flexible, easily extendible structure, where new data blocks and functional modules may be added as necessary. Presently data are organized in four interrelated data blocks: “Introduction event”, “Species”, “Geography” and “Impacts”. Data within blocks are grouped according to attributes, e.g. Development trait, Pathways and vectors. All geographic information is arranged in a hierarchical order ranging from oceans, ocean sub-regions, Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), sub-regions of LMEs to smaller entities such as ports.


For the risk assessment of newly recorded NIS, it is important to know the “unique” NIS, i.e. those NIS only found to occur in a single LME region, as these species may spread further to neighbouring seas.

Such lists of “unique” NIS may be retrieved using the AquaNIS search result comparison function for each recipient region or any other geographical level (LME, LME sub-region, port, etc). The resulting lists may be further analysed by searching the biological traits information, known pathways and/or vectors involved in the transfer of each species, or their native origin. For example, according to AquaNIS, the highest number (80%) of newly recorded NIS since the turn of the last millennium have been reported from the eastern Mediterranean Sea, part of the ongoing Erythraean invasion.


The decision process by managers and researchers measuring progress towards the implementation of the EU (e.g. Water Framework Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive) and international legislative acts (e.g. IMO Ballast Water Convention) should be based on scientifically validated, continuously updated and reliable source of information, such as AquaNIS, providing data on spread, biological traits, ecology and impacts of invasive species.

A service-oriented information system AquaNIS with its flexible search functions enables environmental managers and others to extract the needed information. However, the utility of a database depends not only on the technologies used and the deliverables obtained by the project, but whether information derived from the database is demanded by users over time and how the system is being maintained after project termination. Unfortunately it is easier to obtain funding for developing new databases than for database collaboration, adaptation, improvement and maintenance. Without continuous maintenance, update and data quality control, the usefulness of the database diminishes over time and its users may be hampered by outdated and therefore misleading information. In an ideal situation the funding of a database should be secured at a basic level for technical support and for data management. The benefits of a ‘‘living’’ database grow as it accumulates and updates entries, incorporating them into the existing structure.

NIS populations exhibit species-specific interactions with local habitats, show an increasing trend and seem to be linked to the thermal regime.

Presently, AquaNIS is covering NIS and cryptogenic species. To fully satisfy the information needs of the Ballast Water Management Convention, it should cover also native harmful species and pathogens. Technically it is possible to implement as AquaNIS has a flexible and easily expandable structure.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Alien Invasive Species Directive
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Guidelines for the Control and Management of Ships’ Biofouling to Minimize the Transfer of Invasive Aquatic Species
  • International Convention for the Control and Management of Ship's Ballast Water and Sediments
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Water Framework Directive

Lead Author:

Sergej Olenin
Klaipeda University (KUCORPI)
Date of research: October 2014

Related articles:

Non-indigenous and invasive alien species

Aquaculture and invasive species in Venice Lagoon 

Invasive species and ballast waters mitigation 

Ecosystem service changes in an offshore MPA

Impact of the non-indigenous Chinese mitten crab 

Invasive ecosystem engineers and biodiversity

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The content of this website may be subject to copyright, if you wish to use any of the information or figures please contact the attributed author(s).
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.