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Frontiers of Biogeography

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Expansion of an introduced sea anemone population, and its associations with native species in a tropical marine lake (Jellyfish Lake, Palau)


Understanding the full range of consequences of species introductions into island and marine habitats requires quantitative studies of systems that are currently under-represented in the scientific literature. We document the introduction, proliferation and establishment of a non-native sea anemone species in an isolated tropical marine lake, a marine ‘island’. From 2003–2012, we gathered samples to identify the introduced species and used transect and photo-quadrat surveys to describe its abundance, distribution, and any associations with native species or habitats. The non-native sea anemone was first found at the tourist entry into the lake in 2003 and identified as Exaiptasia pallida (Agassiz 1864), a species with zooxanthellae endosymbionts. Temporal patterns of tourism, the spatial extent of the sea anemone in 2003, and genetic analyses of the symbiont were consistent with the early stages of introduction. Subsequent expansion of E. pallida throughout the lake occurred within six years. The native species assemblages that were invaded by E. pallida were heterogeneous among surveys and habitats. Overall, there were few correlations that were significant between percent cover of E. pallida and native species; most significant associations were negative; the majority were on mangrove roots. There was one positive association between E. pallida and a native sponge. No significant relationship was found between the abundance of E. pallida and native species diversity. The rapid expansion of E. pallida but dearth of strong ecosystem effects presents a case study of invasive species in a tropical marine habitat where consequences are not directly proportional to invasive abundance. Whether this outcome is stable and representative of other species introduced into marine lakes, or elsewhere in marine systems, remains to be seen.

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