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.

Outbreak forming species

Outbreak forming species (OFS) are indigenous or alien species with invasive potential, undergoing pulse-like, periodic exponential population growth (usually days to months) during which they have an impact on biological diversity, ecosystem functioning, socio-economic values or human health.

Non-indigenous (i.e. alien, exotic, non-native) species (NIS) are introduced organisms outside their natural (past or present) range of distribution, and outside their natural dispersal potential, which might survive and subsequently reproduce, threatening biodiversity. Species of unknown origin that cannot be ascribed as being native or alien are termed cryptogenic species. In many cases, non-indigenous species do not harm the regional ecology and economics. However, in certain cases, non-indigenous species can become “invasive” species and have enormous and long-lasting impacts on the region.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive lists NIS as Descriptor 2 for the evaluation of Good Environmental Status (GES) of marine ecosystems, stating that NIS should be at levels that do not adversely alter the ecosystem. Invasive alien species (IAS) are a subset of established NIS able to spread in invaded regions and impact biological diversity and/or ecosystem functioning, socio-economic values, or human health.

One of the outcomes of the VECTORS project is AquaNIS, which represents the most comprehensive database resource available to scientists, coastal managers, stakeholders, and policy makers dealing with aquatic IAS in European seas. A DNA/tissue repository bank of invasive alien species and outbreak-forming species has been established. It will enable future research using molecular tools for investigating marine bioinvasions. Novel data have been produced on OFS/IAS ecophysiology, behaviour, reproductive patterns, species interactions, ecological impacts, species growth rates, habitat susceptibility, drivers of invasions. This new information from VECTORS has wide implications going far beyond the various study species and geographical areas, representing a model integrative approach towards a better understanding of the mechanisms of bioinvasions. Key findings can be summarised as follows:

  • Large shifts in environmental abiotic parameters do not have uniform consequences on outbreak forming species, but biotic interactions play a key role in modifying local communities as a result of bioinvasions;
  • Climate-driven warming is expected to exacerbate the potential trophodynamic impacts of outbreak forming species;
  • Depending on whether thermal windows are exceeded at single-species level, the productivity of endemic jellyfish species in the North Sea will not inevitably increase with sea temperatures;
  • In the eastern Mediterranean Sea, water temperature provides an explanation for the replacement of indigenous species by thermophilic invaders in that region, similar future effects in the western Mediterranean can be anticipated;
  • Return time of extreme jellyfish outbreaks in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea has been estimated as two years;
  • Jellyfish outbreaks should not increase in the Mediterranean region simply as a consequence of environmental fluctuations. Extreme outbreak events are likely to occur in the near future at sites in the proximities of marine canyons. Ability to anticipate these extreme events in the future will require a better understanding of how environmental drivers affect demographic and population processes in jellyfish species;
  • Substantial insights on a key jellyfish species in European Seas, Pelagia noctiluca, has been achieved in terms of ecophysiology, reproductive potential, trophic interactions, and population genetic connectivity. An Individual-Based Growth Model (the first bioenergetic model ever developed for a jellyfish species) has been developed, providing a new tool to predict the ecological impact of P. noctiluca outbreaks;
  • A new stinging jellyfish outbreak forming species has been identified and described for the first time from the Mediterranean Sea, and there is little doubt it has been introduced by shipping;
  • Risk of species translocations by shipping, aquaculture, sea food trade in European seas are still high, requiring reinforcement of surveillance and monitoring tools for prevention of new alien introductions; movement and marketing of live trade species should adhere to strict controls in order to prevent unintentional non-indigenous species introduction;
  • The recent enlargement (2010) of the Suez Canal is revealed to be critical for maximizing invasion success of Erythraean biota in the Mediterranean Sea. The many recent records and rapid spread of several invasive aliens are documenting a Mediterranean Sea climate change signature.

Altogether, the outcomes of VECTORS will represent a fundamental toolkit for application of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in European Seas and for everyone dealing with the integrative coastal zone management and the protection of marine ecosystems processes and services.

VECTORS research focus:

  1. Document the distribution of invasive alien species and native outbreak forming species
  2. Determine the stochastic and deterministic drivers of proliferations and ecophysiological features boosting regime shifts of marine communities
  3. Discriminate sources and vectors of bioinvasions
  4. Foresee consequences of bioinvasions in terms of impact on ecosystem functioning and services

Lead Author

Stefano Piraino

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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.

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