Non-native marine species are a problem in bays and harbors all around the world, and many “hitch-hike” on ship hulls or in ballast tanks to invade new sites. The relatively recent invasion of a bright red bryozoan (Watersipora spp.) that grows like a head of lettuce is hard to miss in many California bays, for example. While most marine ecological research on this invader has been published using a single name (Watersipora subtorquata), recent work by Sean Craig and his collaborators (including Josh Mackie, formerly of San Jose State University) has shown that these invasions represent 2 separate, genetically distinct cryptic species which are indistinguishable morphologically. In addition, work in the Craig lab has shown that these two species differ markedly in their temperature tolerance, growth and reproductive timing, and growth form. While Watersipora subtorquata (now called W. subatra) is common in bays and harbors in Southern California, Watersipora “new sp” is much more common in colder water habitats from Morro Bay northward. In addition, these two species differ in the size of their larvae as well as their likelihood of settling on copper ship hull paints. Watersipora “new sp.” even shows a strong preference for settling on copper paint over unpainted substrates, suggesting adaptation for “invasions” all around the globe. In short-even though these 2 species cannot easily be distinguished, research in the Craig lab continues to show these 2 species are markedly different and these differences may help predict future invasions, as well as further understanding of the current distribution of these invaders all around the world.
Speaker: Sean Craig, Professor, Humboldt State University
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