Biological Invasions

, Volume 5, Issue 1–2, pp 3–21 | Cite as

Assessing the ecological impacts of an introduced seastar: the importance of multiple methods

  • D. Jeff Ross
  • Craig R. Johnson
  • Chad L. Hewitt


Introduced species are having major impacts in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems worldwide. Given that resources for management are limited and that only a small percentage of invaders are likely to cause large ecological change, management priorities should be based on the severity of immediate and anticipated impacts on native assemblages and commercial species. This paper synthesizes work on the current and predicted impacts of an introduced predatory seastar (Asterias amurensis) on soft sediment assemblages, including native species subject to commercial fishing, in the Derwent Estuary and other areas of southeast Tasmania. Due to the absence of baseline data prior to the arrival of the seastar and the presence of other anthropogenic stressors in the estuary, estimating the impact of the seastar is difficult. To help overcome the weaknesses of any single method, our assessment of impact rests on 'weight of evidence' from multiple approaches. Results from experimental manipulations at small scales, detailed observations of feeding, and field surveys over a range of spatial scales in areas with and without the seastar provide strong evidence that predation by the seastar is likely to be responsible for the decline and subsequent rarity of bivalve species that live just below or on the sediment surface in the Derwent Estuary. The data suggest that should seastar densities in other areas on the Tasmanian coast attain the current levels in the Derwent Estuary, there are likely to be large direct effects on native assemblages, particularly on populations of large surface dwelling bivalves, including several commercial species. Given the seastar's ability to exploit a broad range of food resources other than bivalves, and the functional importance of bivalves in native systems, we predict broader direct and indirect effects on native assemblages. We would be unable to reach these same conclusions from a single approach to assessing impacts. The overall picture from the combination of methods at different scales provides more information than the sum of the results of the separate lines of investigation.

Asterias amurensis ecological variability impacts introduced species multiple methods predation seastar soft sediments Tasmania 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Almon RA and Sebens KP (1988) Feeding biology and ecological impact of an introduced nudibranch, Tritonia plebia, in New England. Marine Biology 99: 375–385Google Scholar
  2. Barry JP and Dayton PK (1991) Physical heterogeneity and the organization of marine communities. In: Kolasa J and Pickett STA (eds) Ecological Heterogeneity, pp 270–320. Springer-Verlag, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Bax N (1999) Eradicating a dreissenid from Australia. Dreissena! 10: 1–4Google Scholar
  4. Bennett B (1999) Healing the Derwent's murky blues. Ecos 100: 10–18Google Scholar
  5. Bruce BD, Sutton CAand Lyne V(1995) Laboratory and field studies of the larval distribution and duration of the introduced seastar Asterias amurensis with updated and improved prediction of the species spread based on a larval dispersal model. Final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. CSIRO Division of Marine Research, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  6. Buchanan JB (1966) The biology of Echinocardium cordatum (Echinodermata: Spatangoidea) from different habitats. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 46: 97–114Google Scholar
  7. Buttermore RE, Turner E and Morrice MG (1994) The introduced northern Pacific seastar Asterias amurensis in Tasmania. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 36: 21–25Google Scholar
  8. Carlton JT and Geller JB (1993) Ecological roulette: the global transport of nonindigenous marine organisms. Science 261: 78–82Google Scholar
  9. Clarke KR and Ainsworth M (1993) A method of linking multivariate community structure to environmental variables. Marine Ecology Progress Series 1993: 205–219Google Scholar
  10. Cohen AN and Carlton JT (1996) Nonindigenous aquatic species in a United States estuary: a case history of the ecological and economic effects of biological invasions in the San Francisco and Delta region. Report to the United States Fisheries and Wildlife ServiceGoogle Scholar
  11. Cohen AN and Carlton JT (1998) Accelerating invasion rate in a highly invaded estuary. Science 279: 555–558Google Scholar
  12. Coles SL, DeFelice RC, Elderedge LG and Carlton JT (1999) Historical and recent introductions of non-indigenous marine species into Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. Marine Biology 135: 147–158Google Scholar
  13. Coughanowr C (1997) State of the Derwent Estuary: a review of environmental quality data to 1997. Supervising Scientists Report 129. Supervising scientist, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  14. Culver C and Kuris A (2000) The apparent eradication of a locally introduced marine pest. Biological Invasions 2: 245–253Google Scholar
  15. Dame RF (1996) Ecology of Marine Bivalves: An Ecosystem Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FloridaGoogle Scholar
  16. Diamond J (1986) Overview: laboratory experiments, filed experiments, and natural experiments. In: Diamond J and Case T (eds) Community Ecology, pp 3–22. Harper and Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Elton CS (1958) The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants. Methuen, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Everett RA and Ruiz GM (1993) Coarse woody debris as a refuge from predation in aquatic communities, an experimental test. Oecologia 93: 475–486Google Scholar
  19. Fernandes TF, Huxham M and Piper SR (1999) Predator caging experiments: a test of the importance of scale. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 241: 137–154Google Scholar
  20. Fukuyama AK (1994) A review of the distribution and life history of Asterias amurensis on the northeast Pacific coast. Unpublished report to CSIRO and National Seastar Task Force, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  21. Fukuyama AK and Oliver JS (1985) Sea star and walrus predation on bivalves in Morton Sound, Bering Sea, Alaska. Ophelia 24: 17–36Google Scholar
  22. Furlani DM (1996) A guide to the introduced marine species in Australian waters. CSIRO Division of Fisheries, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  23. Glasby T and Underwood A (1998) Determining the positions for control locations in environmental studies of estuarine marinas. Marine Ecology Progress Series 171: 1–14Google Scholar
  24. Glasby TM (1997) Analysing data from post-impact studies using asymmetrical analysis of variance: a case study of epibiota on marinas. Australian Journal of Ecology 22: 448–459Google Scholar
  25. Grannum RK, Murfet NB, Ritz DA and Turner E (1996) The distribution and impact of the exotic seastar, Asterias amurensis (Lutken), in Tasmania. In: The Introduced Northern Pacific Seastar, Asterias amurensis, in Tasmania, pp 53–138. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  26. Griffiths CL, Hockey PAR, Schurink CV and Roux PJL (1992) Marine invasive aliens on South Africans shores: implication for community structure and trophic functioning. South African Journal of Marine Science 12: 713–722Google Scholar
  27. Grosholz ED and Ruiz GM (1995) Spread and potential impact of the recently introduced European Green crab, Carcinus maenas, in central California. Marine Biology 122: 239–247Google Scholar
  28. Grosholz E and Ruiz G (1996) Predicting the impact of introduced marine species: lessons from the multiple invasions of the European green crab Carcinus maenas. Biological Conservation 78: 59–66Google Scholar
  29. Grosholz ED, Ruiz GM, Dean CA, Shirley KA, Maron JL and Connors PG (2000) The impacts of a nonindigenous marine predator in a California Bay. Ecology 81: 1206Google Scholar
  30. Hatanaka M and Kosaka M (1959) Biological studies on the population of the starfish, Asterias amurensis, in Sendai Bay. Tohoku Journal of Agricultural Research 9: 159–178Google Scholar
  31. Hewitt CL, Campbell ML, Thresher RE and Martin RB (1999) Marine biological invasions of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria. CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  32. Hughes RN, Peer DL and Mann KH (1972) Use of multivariate analysis to identify functional components of the benthos in St Margaret's Bay, Novia Scotia. Limnology and Oceanography 17: 111–121Google Scholar
  33. Johnson D (1994) Seastar fight gains momentum. Research 53: 25–29Google Scholar
  34. Jones M (1991) Marine organisms transported in ballast water: a review of the Australian scientific position. Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Bureau of Rural Resources, AGPS, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  35. Kareiva P (1994) Higher order interactions as a foil to reductionist ecology. Ecology 75: 1527–1528Google Scholar
  36. Keough MJ and Mapstone BD (1995) Protocols for designing marine ecological monitoring programs associated with BEK mills. National Pulp Mills Research Program Technical Report No 11. CSIRO, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  37. Keough MJ and Mapstone BD (1997) Designing environmental monitoring for pulp mills in Australia. Water Science and Technology 35: 397–404Google Scholar
  38. Kim YS (1969) Selective feeding on the several bivalve molluscs by starfish, Asterias amurensis. Bulletin of the Facility of Fisheries Hokkaido University 19: 244–249Google Scholar
  39. Lipcius RN and Hines AH (1986) Variable functional responses of a marine predator in dissimilar homogenous habitats. Ecology 67: 1361–1371Google Scholar
  40. Lockhart SJ (1995) Feeding biology of the introduced sea star, Asterias amurensis (Lutken) in Tasmania (Echinodermata Asteroidea). Department of Zoology. Honours thesis, University of Tasmania, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  41. Lockhart SJ and Ritz DA (2001a) Size selectivity and energy maximisation of the introduced seastar, Asterias amurensis (Lutken), in Tasmania, Australia. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 135: 35–40Google Scholar
  42. Lockhart SJ and Ritz DA (2001b) Preliminary observations of the feeding periodicity and selectivity of the introduced seastar, Asterias amurensis (Lutken), in Tasmania, Australia. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 135: 25–33Google Scholar
  43. Lodge DM (1993) Biological Invasions: lessons for ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 8: 133–137Google Scholar
  44. Lodge DM, Stein RA and Brown KM (1998) Predicting impact of freshwater exotic species on native biodiversity: challenges in spatial scaling. Australian Journal of Ecology 23: 53–67Google Scholar
  45. McLoughlin R and Bax N (1993) Scientific discussions in Japan and Russia on the northern Pacific seastar. Unpublished report. CSIRO Division of Marine Research, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  46. McLoughlin R and Thresher R (1994) The north Pacific seastar: Australia's most damaging pest? Search 25: 69–71Google Scholar
  47. Menge BA (1982) Effects of feeding on the environment: Asteroidea. In: Janguoux M and Lawrence JM (eds) Echinoderm Nutrition, pp 521–554. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  48. Morrice MG (1995) The distribution and ecology of the introduced northern Pacific seastar, Asterias amurensis (Lutken), in Tasmania. In: The Introduced Northern Pacific Seastar, Asterias amurensis, in Tasmania, pp 1–47. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  49. Murphy N and Evans B (1998) Genetic origin of Australian populations of Asterias amurensis. Proceedings of a meeting on the biology and management of the introduced seastar, Asterias amurensis, in Australian waters pp 22–25. CSIRO Division of Marine Research, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  50. Nichols FH, Thompson JK and Schemel LE (1990) Remarkable invasion of San Francisco Bay (California, USA) by the Asian clam Potamocorbula amurensis. II. Displacement of a former community. Marine Ecology Progress Series 66: 95–101Google Scholar
  51. Nojima S, Soliman FA, Kondo Y, Kuwano Y, Nasu K and Kitajima C (1986) Some notes of the outbreak of the sea star Asterias amurensis versiclor Sladen, in the Ariake Sea, western Kyshu. Publication of the Amakusa Marine Biology Laboratory Kyushi University 8: 89–112Google Scholar
  52. Osenberg CW and Schmitt RJ (1996) Detecting ecological impacts caused by human activities. In: Schmitt RJ and Osenberg CW (eds) Detecting Ecological Impacts: Concepts and Applications in Coastal Habitats, pp 3–16. Academic Press, San Diego, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  53. Parker IM, Simberloff D, Lonsdale D, Goodel K, Wonham M, Kareiva PM, Williamson MH, Von Holle B, Moyle PB, Byers JE and Goldwasser L (1999) Impact: toward a framework for understanding the ecological effects of invaders. Biological Invasions 1: 3–19Google Scholar
  54. Pimentel D, Lach L, Zuniga R and Morrison D (2000) Environmental and economic costs of nonindigenous species in the United States. BioScience 50: 53–64Google Scholar
  55. Pollard DA and Hutchings PA (1990a) A review of exotic marine organisms introduced to the Australian region. I. Fishes. Asian Fisheries Science 3: 205–221Google Scholar
  56. Pollard DA and Hutchings PA (1990b) A review of exotic marine organisms introduced to the Australian region. 2. Invertebrates and Algae. Asian Fisheries Science 3: 222–250Google Scholar
  57. Ross DJ (2001) Impact of the northern Pacific seastar Asterias amurensis on soft sediment assemblages, including commercial species, in southeast Tasmania. PhD dissertation, University of Tasmania, Hobart, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  58. Ross DJ, Johnson CR and Hewitt CL (2002) Impact of the introduced seastar Asterias amurensis on survivorship of juvenile commercial bivalves Fulvia tenuicostata. Marine Ecology Progress Series 241: 99–112Google Scholar
  59. Ross DJ, Johnson CR and Hewitt CL (2003) Variability in the impact of an introduced predator (Asterias amurensis: Asteroidea) on soft sediment assemblages. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 288: 257–278Google Scholar
  60. Ross DJ, Johnson CR and Hewitt CL (in press) Interaction and impacts of two introduced species on a soft sediment marine assemblage in SE Tasmania. Marine BiologyGoogle Scholar
  61. Rhoads DC (1974) Organism-sediment relations on the muddy sea-floor. Oceanography and Marine Biology: an Annual Review 12: 263–300Google Scholar
  62. Ruiz GM, Fofonoff P, Hines AH and Grosholz ED (1999) Nonindigenous species as stressors in estuarine and marine communities: assessing invasion impacts and interactions. Limnology and Oceanography 44: 950–972Google Scholar
  63. Sanders HL (1958) Benthic studies in Buzzard's Bay. I. Animal–sediment relationships. Limnology and Oceanography 3: 245–258Google Scholar
  64. Schmitt RJ and Osenberg CW (eds) (1996) Detecting Ecological Impacts: Concepts and Applications in Coastal Habitats. Academic Press, San Diego, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  65. Shushkina E and Musayeva E (1990) Structure of the plankton community from the Black Sea and its changes as a result of the introduction of a ctenophore species. Oceanology 30: 225–228Google Scholar
  66. Simberloff D and Holle BV (1999) Positive interaction of nonindigenous species: invasional meltdown? Biological Invasions 1: 21–32Google Scholar
  67. Skilleter GA (1994) Refuges from predation and the persistence of estuarine clam populations. Marine Ecology Progress Series 109: 29–42Google Scholar
  68. Sloan NA (1980) Aspects of the feeding biology of asteroids. Oceanography and Marine Biology: an Annual Review 18: 57–124Google Scholar
  69. Thresher RE (2000) Key threats from marine bioinvasions: a review of current and future issues. In: Pederson J (ed) Proceedings of the First National Conference of Marine Bioinvasions. MIT Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  70. Thrush SF (1999) Complex role of predators in structuring soft-sediment macrobenthic communities: implications of changes in spatial scale for experimental studies. Australian Journal of Ecology 24: 344–354Google Scholar
  71. Thrush SF, Cummings VJ, Dayton PK, Ford R, Grant J, Hewitt JE, Hines AH, Lawrie SM, Pridmore RD, Legendre P, Mcardle BH, Schneider DC, Turner SJ, Whitlatch RB and Wilkinson MR (1997) Matching the outcome of small-scale density manipulation experiments with larger scale patterns an example of bivalve adult/juvenile interactions. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 216: 153–169Google Scholar
  72. Thrush SF, Hewitt JE, Cummings VJ, Green MO, Funnell GA and Wilkinson MR (2000) The generality of field experiments: interactions between local and broad-scale processes. Ecology 81: 399–415Google Scholar
  73. Turner E (1992) A northern Pacific seastar, Asterias amurensis, in Tasmania. Australian Marine Science Bulletin 120: 18–19Google Scholar
  74. Underwood AJ (1991) Beyond BACI: experimental designs for detecting human environmental impacts on temporal variations in natural populations. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 42: 569–587Google Scholar
  75. Underwood AJ (1992) Beyond BACI: the detection of environmental impacts on populations in the real, but variable, world. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 161: 145–178Google Scholar
  76. Underwood AJ (1996) Detection, interpretation, prediction and management of environmental disturbances: some roles for experimental marine ecology. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 200: 1–27Google Scholar
  77. Virnstein RW (1977) The importance of predation by crabs and fishes on benthic infauna in Chesapeake Bay. Ecology 58: 119–127Google Scholar
  78. Vitousek PM, D'Antonio CM, Loope LL and Westbrooks R (1996) Biological invasions as global environmental change. American Scientist 84: 468–478Google Scholar
  79. Willan RC, Russell BC, Murfet NB, Moore KL, McEnnulty FR, Horner SK, Hewitt CL, Dally GM, Campbell ML and Bourke ST (2000) Outbreak of Mytilopsis sallei (Récluz, 1849) (Bivalvia; Dressenida) in Australia. Molluscan Research 20(2): 25–30Google Scholar
  80. Williamson M (1996) Biological Invasions. Chapman & Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  81. Woodin SA (1974) Polychaete abundance patterns in a marine soft sediment environment: the importance of biological interactions. Ecological Monographs 44: 171–87Google Scholar
  82. Woodin SA (1978) Refuges, disturbance and community structure: a marine soft-bottom example. Ecology 59: 274–284Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Jeff Ross
    • 2
  • Craig R. Johnson
    • 1
  • Chad L. Hewitt
    • 3
  1. 1.School of ZoologyUniversity of TasmaniaSandy BayAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Research on Introduced Marine Pests, CSIRO Marine ResearchHobartAustralia
  3. 3.Centre for Research on Introduced Marine Pests, CSIRO Marine ResearchHobartAustralia

Personalised recommendations