Role of domestic shipping in the introduction or secondary spread of nonindigenous species: biological invasions within the Laurentian Great Lakes
- The most effective way to manage invasive species is to prevent their introduction via vector regulation. While progress has been made in the management of transoceanic ballast water, domestic vessels operating within smaller geographic regions such as the Laurentian Great Lakes, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea or Baltic Sea are often exempt from regulations.
- We randomly surveyed unmanaged ballast water moved by domestic vessels within the Laurentian Great Lakes and compared the results with that of exchanged ballast water from transoceanic vessels to assess invasion risk of zooplankton transported by these two types of vessels.
- Total abundance and species richness were significantly different between the two vessel types with mean abundance being two magnitudes greater, and species richness being threefold higher in domestic vessels compared with transoceanic vessels. Abundance of restricted taxa – cumulatively the Great Lakes' indigenous and nonindigenous species (NIS) which do not occur in all five lakes – was also significantly higher in domestic vessels (mean densities were 24 170 and 3421 individuals per m3 for domestic and transoceanic vessels, respectively), whereas the abundance of NIS did not differ between vessels (median densities of 2015 and 850 individuals per m3, respectively).
- We documented 89 species transported by domestic vessels of which 31 had restricted distribution and eight were NIS. While most NIS were already established in all five lakes, Cercopagis pengoi, a NIS of global concern, and Nitokra hibernica have not been identified from Lake Superior, and both were sampled from ballast water destined for discharge in Lake Superior. Beside the risk of spread of NIS between lakes, domestic shipping can act as a vector for homogenization of indigenous taxa, with at least 21 native species (99 events) being moved outside their historical distribution.
- Synthesis and applications. Our study indicates that management of invasive species should consider ecological, not geographical or political boundaries. Domestic vessels operating within a limited geographic region have high potential to introduce or spread species with restricted distribution, demonstrating importance of intraregional ballast water management. Results presented here should interest policy makers and environmental managers who seek to reduce invasion risk.