Biological Invasions

, Volume 19, Issue 9, pp 2583–2597 | Cite as

Taking a detour: invasion of an octocoral into the Tropical Eastern Pacific

  • Elena QuintanillaEmail author
  • Thomas Wilke
  • Catalina Ramírez-Portilla
  • Adriana Sarmiento
  • Juan A. Sánchez
Original Paper


The tropical snowflake octocoral Carijoa riisei, which is thought to be native to the Indo-Pacific biogeographical region, has been increasingly reported from the Colombian Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) over the past two decades. Massive mortalities of native octocorals, particularly in Pacifigorgia spp. and Muricea spp., were observed due to C. riisei overgrowth. However, the area of origin of TEP C. riisei remains unknown and its potential invasive status has not been addressed yet. We evaluated geographical scenarios for the colonization of the Colombian TEP by conducting phylogeographical analyses based on nuclear and mitochondrial sequences of 306 individual specimens from across the species’ (native/non-native) range and applying hypothesis-specific operational criteria. Additionally, we assessed whether C. riisei has to be considered an invasive species based on the previously proposed ‘unified framework for biological invasions’. Our results showed relatively high genetic differentiation between Colombian TEP populations, on the one side, and Indo-Pacific and Hawaiian populations, on the other side. In contrast, we could not identify genetic differentiation and significant isolation by distance (IBD) between Colombian TEP and Tropical Atlantic populations. C. riisei might have been introduced from the Atlantic into the Colombian TEP, possibly via the Panama Canal. Based on the criteria of the ‘unified framework for biological invasions’, we also conclude that this octocoral constitutes an invasive species. Our study may serve as a basis for establishing strategies to protect native species from one of the very few invasive coral species worldwide.


Carijoa riisei Invasive status Phylogeography Tropical Eastern Pacific Area of origin Operational criteria 



We thank the Fundación Malpelo and Parques Nacionales Naturales (PNN) in Colombia for organizing the expeditions to Malpelo Island, especially Sandra Bessudo and Nancy Murillo for their valuable support. We also thank PNN Gorgona, particularly Ximena Zorrilla and Luis Payán for their cooperation during the field surveys. We are grateful to Javier Torres for its help in sample collection. The help from colleagues and students from Laboratorio de Biología Molecular Marina (BIOMMAR, Universidad de los Andes) during the field and laboratory stages was invaluable, particularly from Lina Gutierrez, Iván Calixto and Natalia Jiménez. We also acknowledge Björn Stelbrink for his constructive comments on the manuscript, the contributions of Arthur Sands, Pauline Gauffre and Alejandro Reyes in the earlier stages of this paper as well as the support from local communities in Cabo Corrientes, Chocó. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers that helped us improving the manuscript. This study was funded by COLCIENCIAS (Grant No. 1204-521-29002 to JAS), the Facultad de Ciencias (Universidad de los Andes) and the Center of Excellence in Marine Sciences (CEMarin) in Bogotá.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 136 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 202 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (PDF 205 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (PDF 146 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratorio de Biología Molecular Marina (BIOMMAR), Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas-Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de los AndesBogotáColombia
  2. 2.Department of Animal Ecology and SystematicsJustus Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany

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