A hitchhiker’s guide to the Maritimes: anthropogenic transport facilitates long-distance dispersal of an invasive marine crab to Newfoundland


Correspondence: A. M. H. Blakeslee, Marine Invasions Laboratory, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD 21037, USA.
E-mail: blakesleea@si.edu


Aim  To determine timing, source and vector for the recent introduction of the European green crab, Carcinus maenas (Linnaeus, 1758), to Newfoundland using multiple lines of evidence.

Location  Founding populations in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, Canada and potential source populations in the north-west Atlantic (NWA) and Europe.

Methods  We analysed mitochondrial and microsatellite genetic data from European and NWA populations sampled during 1999–2002 to determine probable source locations and vectors for the Placentia Bay introduction discovered in 2007. We also analysed Placentia Bay demographic data and shipping records to look for congruent patterns with genetic analyses.

Results  Demographic data and surveys suggested that C. maenas populations are established and were in Placentia Bay for several years (c. 2002) prior to discovery. Genetic data corroboratively suggested central/western Scotian Shelf populations (e.g., Halifax) as the likely source area for the anthropogenic introduction. These Scotian Shelf populations were within an admixture zone made up of genotypes from both the earlier (early 1800s) and later (late 1900s) introductions of the crab to the NWA from Europe. Placentia Bay also exhibited this mixed ancestry. Probable introduction vectors included vessel traffic and shipping, especially vessels carrying ballast water.

Main conclusions Carcinus maenas overcame considerable natural barriers (i.e., coastal and ocean currents) via anthropogenic transport to become established and abundant in Newfoundland. Our study thus demonstrates how non-native populations can be important secondary sources of introduction especially when aided by human transport. Inference of source populations was possible owing to the existence of an admixture zone in central/western Nova Scotia made up of southern and northern genotypes corresponding with the crab’s two historical introductions. Coastal vessel traffic was found to be a likely vector for the crab’s spread to Newfoundland. Our study demonstrates that there is considerable risk for continued introduction or reintroduction of C. maenas throughout the NWA.