Does climatic warming explain why an introduced barnacle finally takes over after a lag of more than 50 years?
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Invading alien species may have to await appropriate conditions before developing from a rare addition to the recipient community to a dominance over native species. Such a retarded invasion seems to have happened with the antipodean cirripede crustacean Austrominius modestus Darwin, formerly known as Elminius modestus, at its northern range in Europe due to climatic change. This barnacle was introduced to southern Britain almost seven decades ago, and from there spread north and south. At the island of Sylt in the North Sea, the first A. modestus were observed already in 1955 but this alien remained rare until recently, when in summer of 2007 it had overtaken the native barnacles Semibalanus balanoides and Balanus crenatus in abundance. At the sedimentary shores of Sylt, mollusc shells provide the main substrate for barnacles and highest abundances were attained on mixed oyster and mussel beds just above low tide level. A. modestus ranged from the upper intertidal down to the subtidal fringe. Its realized spatial niche was wider than that of the two natives. We suggest that at its current northern range in Europe a long series of mild winters and several warm summers in a row has led to an exponential population growth in A. modestus.
KeywordsAlien species Austrominius modestus Invasion Climate change North Sea
We thank Elisabeth Herre for substantial help with the figures. Patrick Polte, Nils Volkenborn, Alfred Resch and Kay von Böhlen were essential to set-up the ring-experiment. Heike Büttger and Georg Nehls provided long-term data on barnacle abundance attached to beds of mussels and oysters.
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