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Keywords:

  • bioinvasion;
  • introduction;
  • lessepsian migration;
  • marine;
  • reef fish;
  • tropicalization

Abstract

Alien species are considered one of the prime threats to biodiversity, driving major changes in ecosystem structure and function. Identifying the traits associated with alien introduction has been largely restricted to comparing indigenous and alien species or comparing alien species that differ in abundance or impact. However, a more complete understanding may emerge when the entire pool of potential alien species is used as a control, information that is rarely available. In the eastern Mediterranean, the marine environment is undergoing an unparalleled species composition transformation, as a flood of aliens have entered from the Red Sea following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In this study, we compile data on species traits, geographical distribution, and environmental affinity of the entire pool of reef-associated fish species in the Red Sea and more generally across the Indo-Pacific. We use this extensive data to identify the prime characteristics separating Red Sea species that have become alien in the Mediterranean from those that have not. We find that alien species occupy a larger range of environments in their native ranges, explaining their ability to colonize the seasonal Mediterranean. Red Sea species that naturally experience high maximum temperatures in their native range have a high probability of becoming alien. Thus, contrary to predictions of an accelerating number of aliens following increased water temperatures, hotter summers in this region may prevent the establishment of many alien species. We further find that ecological trait diversity of alien species is substantially more evenly spaced and more divergent than random samples from the pool of Red Sea species, pointing at additional processes, such as competition, promoting ecological diversity among alien species. We use these results to provide a first quantitative ranking of the potential of Red Sea species to become established in the eastern Mediterranean.