Can we predict the effects of alien species? A case-history of the invasion of South Africa by Mytilus galloprovincialis (Lamarck)

TitleCan we predict the effects of alien species? A case-history of the invasion of South Africa by Mytilus galloprovincialis (Lamarck)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
Refereed DesignationRefereed
AuthorsBranch, G. M., & Steffani N. C.
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Pagination189 - 215
Date Published03/2004

The Mediterranean mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis invaded the shores of South Africa in about the mid-1970s. It was first detected at a harbour in Saldanha on the west coast and apparently arrived accidentally. From there, it spread at a rate of about 115 km·year−1 and now occupies the whole of the west coast of South Africa and at least the southern half of Namibia. It was deliberately introduced from the west coast to the south coast for mariculture. In this case study, we record its effects on intertidal rocky shores, cast in terms of predictions based on (a) the history of its invasions elsewhere, (b) its mode of dispersal, (c) its physiological performance relative to indigenous mussels, (d) the role of wave action as a moderator of competition, (e) the influence of relative body sizes, (f) the projected effects of the mussel on infauna, (g) consumption by higher trophic levels, and (h) rates of parasitism.
Several properties of M. galloprovincialis itself, and of the recipient community, conspired to favour the spread and establishment of this alien mussel, including high productivity on the west coast of South Africa, prevalently strong wave action, a sparsity of predators, an absence of parasites, the mussel's fast growth and high reproductive output, and its possession of a planktotrophic larva. It competitively displaces several species because of its physiological performance. Some of the species gain a substitute substratum on the mussels themselves, but only if they are small enough to live and reproduce on the mussels. M. galloprovincialis has had little effect on infauna, but has provided an additional source of food for higher predators, including the rare and endangered African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini).
Nearly all these effects and conditions were forecasted (or, at the least, explainable with hindsight), but despite these successes in predicting the impacts of M. galloprovincialis, its spread was not only unavoidable but was encouraged by its transfer to the south coast for mariculture. Moreover, there was one completely unpredictable effect of M. galloprovincialis—which led to mass mortalities of a swimming crab. Given the failure of even quite detailed and accurate predictions to allow control of M. galloprovincialis once it arrived, prevention rather than cure must be the prime means of avoiding future unwanted introductions of invasive species.

Short TitleJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology