, Volume 52, Issue 3-4, pp 219-234

Introduced marine species of the North Sea coasts

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Abstract

About 80 non-indigenous species are assumed to have been introduced into the North Sea by transoceanic shipping and aquaculture. The number is certainly underestimated as most small organisms received insufficient attention at the species level. Also, the seafaring tradition of the North Sea countries is much longer than our biological surveys are. Most exotic invertebrates originate from the western Atlantic and were introduced by shipping, while most algae stem from the Pacific and came with the introduced oysters. A peak of newcomers was observed in the 1970s. Most of the arrivals became established in brackish environments, at harbor sites and in the vicinity of oyster farms, fouling on hard substrates or living as epibionts. A few live in sediments, are holoplanktonic or are parasites. At the open coast, approximately 6% of the macrobenthic species are exotics, while in estuaries their share is up to 20%. Most exotics have been encountered in the southern North Sea first, and many did not spread further north. About 25% of the established non-natives are widespread and attain locally high abundances. As a consequence, some inshore habitats are entirely dominated by exotics. The overall effect on the ecosystem seems to be more additive than one of displacement. This suggests that the coastal biota of the North Sea are quite capable of accommodating newcomers. However, this is no guarantee that the next introduced species may not cause severe ecological change or economic harm. There is a need to minimize the risk of unintentional introductions by ballast water treatment and by adhering to quarantine procedures in aquaculture. Current research on exotics in the North Sea is regarded as inadequate for proper evaluation and management requirements.