Priorities for improving predictions of vessel-mediated marine invasions

Kyle Hilliam, O. Floerl, E. A. Treml

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Non-indigenous marine species are impacting the integrity of marine ecosystems worldwide. The invasion rate is increasing, and vessel traffic, the most significant human-assisted transport pathway for marine organisms, is predicted to double by 2050. The ability to predict the transfer of marine species by international and domestic maritime traffic is needed to develop cost-effective proactive and reactive interventions that minimise introduction, establishment and spread of invasive species. However, despite several decades of research into vessel-mediated species transfers, some important knowledge gaps remain, leading to significant uncertainty in model predictions, often limiting their use in decision making and management planning. In this review, we discuss the sequential ecological process underlying human-assisted biological invasions and adapt it in a marine context. This process includes five successive stages: entrainment, transport, introduction, establishment, and the subsequent spread. We describe the factors that influence an organism's progression through these stages in the context of maritime vessel movements and identify key knowledge gaps that limit our ability to quantify the rate at which organisms successfully pass through these stages. We then highlight research priorities that will address these knowledge gaps and improve our capability to manage biosecurity risks at local, national and international scales. We identified four major data and knowledge gaps: (1) quantitative rates of entrainment of organisms by vessels; (2) the movement patterns of vessel types lacking maritime location devices; (3) quantifying the release (introduction) of organisms as a function of vessel behaviour (e.g. time spent at port); and (4) the influence of a species' life history on establishment success, for a given magnitude of propagule pressure. We discuss these four research priorities and how they can be addressed in collaboration with industry partners and stakeholders to improve our ability to predict and manage vessel-mediated biosecurity risks over the coming decades.

Original languageEnglish
Article number171162
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date26 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Feb 2024

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