Stronger biotic resistance in tropics relative to temperate zone: effects of predation on marine invasion dynamics


  • Corresponding Editor: P. T. Raimondi.


Latitudinal patterns of nonnative species richness suggest fewer successful invasions in the tropics, relative to temperate regions. One main hypothesis for this pattern is that biotic resistance to invasion is stronger in the tropics than at higher latitudes. Biotic resistance can limit the distribution and abundance of nonnative species and, in extreme cases, can prevent establishment. We provide the first experimental test of this hypothesis, comparing the strength of biotic resistance in a tropical and a temperate marine ecosystem. Predation is one mechanism of biotic resistance, and since predation can be stronger at lower latitudes, we predicted that predation will serve to increase biotic resistance more in the tropics than at higher latitude. We conducted predator-exclusion experiments on marine epifaunal communities, a heavily invaded system, focusing on nonnative tunicates as a model fauna. The effect of predation on species richness of nonnative tunicates was more than three times greater at sites in tropical Panama than in temperate Connecticut, consistent with the prediction of stronger biotic resistance in the tropics. In Connecticut, predation reduced the abundance of one nonnative tunicate but did not affect the abundances of any other nonnative tunicate species, and no species were excluded from communities. In contrast, predation resulted in striking reductions in abundance and often exclusion of nonnative tunicates from experimental communities in Panama. If proved to be general, latitudinal differences in the biotic resistance of communities to nonnative species establishment may help explain emerging patterns of global invasions.