Loopholes in the regulation of invasive species: genetic identifications identify mislabeling of prohibited aquarium plants
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- Thum, R.A., Mercer, A.T. & Wcisel, D.J. Biol Invasions (2012) 14: 929. doi:10.1007/s10530-011-0130-8
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Numerous invasive aquatic species introductions can be traced to the aquarium trade. Many potentially harmful aquarium species may be difficult to identify based on morphology alone. As such, some prohibited or invasive species may be available for purchase if they are mislabeled as species without restrictions. Here we compare molecular identifications to internet vendors’ identifications for accessions of a popular genus of aquarium plants that are difficult to distinguish morphologically (Myriophyllum; watermilfoils). Specifically, we identified the extensive mislabeling of M. heterophyllum—an invasive species in the northeastern and western US. Furthermore, genotypes of M. heterophyllum found in our aquarium survey have also been found in invasive populations, suggesting their potential introduction through escape from aquaria, water gardens, or nurseries. Two additional taxa were sold under incorrect names. Finally, our survey revealed that Myriophyllum taxa present in the aquarium trade generally have poorly known distributions and ecologies, and therefore their invasive potential is unknown. Our study confirms that molecular identification methods can provide a valuable tool to survey commercial pathways for potentially harmful species that are otherwise difficult to identify.