Alien species in fresh waters: ecological effects, interactions with other stressors, and prospects for the future


David L. Strayer, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, PO Box AB, Millbrook, NY, U.S.A. 12545. E-mail:


1. Biological invasions are numerous in fresh waters around the world. At least hundreds of freshwater species have been moved outside of their native ranges by vectors such as ballast water, canals, deliberate introductions, and releases from aquaria, gardens, and bait buckets. As a result, many bodies of fresh water now contain dozens of alien species.

2. Invasions are highly nonrandom with respect to the taxonomic identity and biological traits of the invaders, the ecological characteristics of the ecosystems that are invaded, and the geographical location of the ecosystems that supply and receive the invaders.

3. Some invaders have had deep and pervasive effects on the ecosystems that they invade. Classes of ecologically important invaders in fresh waters include molluscs that are primary consumers and disrupt the food web from its base, fishes that disrupt the food web from its apex or centre, decapods that act as powerful omnivores, aquatic plants that have strong engineering effects and affect the quality and quantity of primary production, and diseases, which probably have been underestimated as an ecological force.

4. The number of alien species in freshwater ecosystems will increase in the future as new aliens are moved outside of their native ranges by humans, and as established aliens fill their potential ranges. Alien species create “no-analogue” ecosystems that will be difficult to manage in the future. We may be able to reduce future impacts of invaders by making more serious efforts to prevent new invasions and manage existing invaders.

5. Thematic implications: interactions between alien species and other contemporary stressors of freshwater ecosystems are strong and varied. Because disturbance is generally thought to favour invasions, stressed ecosystems may be especially susceptible to invasions, as are highly artificial ecosystems. In turn, alien species can strongly alter the hydrology, biogeochemical cycling, and biotic composition of invaded ecosystems, and thus modulate the effects of other stressors. In general, interactions between alien species and other stressors are poorly studied.