No Longer The Pristine Confines of the World Ocean: A Survey of Exotic Marine Species in the Southwestern Atlantic
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We conducted a comprehensive survey of existing knowledge about exotic marine organisms introduced to the southwestern Atlantic Ocean, including coastal and shelf areas of Uruguay and Argentina. This domain is equivalent to the so-called Patagonian Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem, and corresponds to two biogeographic provinces: warm-temperate (Argentine Province) and cold temperate (Magellanic Province). The search included species that can be confidently categorized as introduced (31) and cryptogenic species (46). We present a comprehensive picture of recorded introductions (the first for this region) and some prominent ecological consequences. Most coastal ecosystems between the La Plata River estuary and central Patagonia have already been modified, or are expected to be so in the short term. Five recent, human-mediated biological invasions have already had a significant ecological impact. A barnacle (Balanus glandula) belt has developed on all rocky shores where none was present 30 years ago, a macro-fouler (Limnoperna fortunei) and a reef-builder (Ficopomatus enigmaticus) have strongly modified estuarine ecosystems, Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) reefs are expanding in shallow bays at a fast rate, and kelp (Undaria pinnatifida) is rapidly modifying nearshore benthic communities along the coasts of central Patagonia. At this point, it is uncertain how many of the cordgrasses (Spartina spp.) found in coastal salt marshes correspond to exotic forms. Only exposed sandy beaches appear to be free from the pervasive ecological impact of invasion by exotic species. Poor knowledge of the regional biota makes it difficult to track invasions.
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