Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2009-16


Using the Panama Canal to test predictions about tropical marine invasions.




Ruiz, GM; Torchin, ME; Grant, K


Lang, MA; Macintyre, IG; Ratzler, K, eds. Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences, Number 38. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press
: 291 - 299


As humans alter the landscape of the Earth and economic globalization expands, biological invasions increasingly homogenize the world’s biota. In temperate marine systems, invasions are occurring at a rapid pace, driven by the transfer of organisms by vessels and live trade (including aquaculture and fisheries activities). In contrast, little is known about patterns and processes of tropical marine invasions, although the same species transfer mechanisms are in operation. This disparity may be the result of limited studies of invasions in the tropics relative to temperate regions. Alternatively, the tropics may be less susceptible to invasion than temperate regions for reasons of environmental unsuitability and biotic interactions. This paper provides a brief summary of the current but limited information of marine invasions across latitudes, focusing particular attention on the eastern Pacific north of the Equator. Within this latitudinal framework, the Panama Canal provides an especially important model system for testing predictions about marine invasions in the tropics for reasons of (a) the high level of shipping traffic since the Canal opened in 1914; (b) the permeability of the Canal as a conduit for marine invaders, despite the apparent freshwater barrier; and (c) the current expansion of the Canal that is expected to increase the size and number of ships visiting the region.

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