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Predicting the impacts of an introduced species from its invasion history: an empirical approach applied to zebra mussel invasions


Anthony Ricciardi, Redpath Museum and McGill School of Environment, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2K6. E-mail:


1. Quantitative models of impact are lacking for the vast majority of known invasive species, particularly in aquatic ecosystems. Consequently, managers lack predictive tools to help them prioritise invasion threats and decide where they can most effectively allocate limited resources. Predictive tools would also enhance the accuracy of water quality assessments, so that impacts caused by an invader are not erroneously attributed to other anthropogenic stressors.

2. The invasion history of a species is a valuable guide for predicting the consequences of its introduction into a new environment. Regression analysis of data from multiple invaded sites can generate empirical models of impact, as is shown here for the zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha. Dreissena's impacts on benthic invertebrate abundance and diversity follow predictable patterns that are robust across a range of habitat types and geographic regions. Similar empirical models could be developed for other invaders with a documented invasion history.

3. Because an invader's impact is correlated with its abundance, a surrogate model may be generated (when impact data are unavailable) by relating the invader's abundance to environmental variables. Such a model could help anticipate which habitats will be most affected by invasion. Lack of precision should not be a deterrent to developing predictive models where none exist. Crude predictions can be refined as additional data become available. Empirical modelling is a highly informative and inexpensive, but underused, approach in the management of aquatic invasive species.

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