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Tubastraea tagusensis, a coral native to the Galapagos Archipelago, has successfully established and invaded the Brazilian coast where it modifies native tropical rocky shore and coral reef communities. In order to understand the processes underlying the establishment of T. tagusensis, we tested whether Maxent, a tool for species distribution modeling, based on the native range of T. tagusensis correctly forecasted the invasion range of this species in Brazil. The Maxent algorithm was unable to predict the Brazilian coast as a suitable environment for the establishment of T. tagusensis. A comparison between these models and a principal component analysis (PCA) allowed us to examine the environmental dissimilarity between the two occupied regions (native and invaded) and to assess the species' occupied niche breadth. According to the PCA results, lower levels of chlorophyll-a and nitrate on the Atlantic coast segregate the Brazilian and Galapagos environments, implying that T. tagusensis may have expanded its realized niche during the invasion process. We tested the possible realized niche expansion in T. tagusensis by assuming that Tubast-raea spp. have similar fundamental niches, which was supported by exploring the environmental space of T. coccinea, a tropical-cosmopolitan congener of T. tagusensis. We believe that the usage of Maxent should be treated with caution , especially when applied to biological invasion (or climate change) scenarios where the target species has a highly localized native (original) distribution, which may represent only a small portion of its fundamental niche, and therefore a violation of a SDM assumption.
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Occurrence of an invasive coral in the southwest Atlantic
and comparison with a congener suggest potential niche
expansion
L
elis A. Carlos-J
unior
1,2
, Danilo M. Neves
3
, Newton P. U. Barbosa
4
, Timothy P. Moulton
1,2
&
Joel C. Creed
1,2
1
Departamento de Ecologia e Evoluc
ß
~
ao, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Rua S~
ao Francisco Xavier, 524 Maracan~
a, Rio de Janeiro,
CEP: 20550-013, Brazil
2
Coral-Sol Research, Technological Development and Innovation Network, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
3
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 20a Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH3 5LR, UK
4
Departamento de Biologia Geral, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Avenida Ant^
onio Carlos, 6627 Pampulha, Belo Horizonte 31270901,
Brazil
Keywords
Coral species, marine invasions, niche
breadth, species distribution modeling,
Tubastraea coccinea,Tubastraea tagusensis.
Correspondence
Joel C. Creed, Departamento de Ecologia e
Evoluc
ß
~
ao, Universidade do Estado do Rio de
Janeiro, Rua S~
ao Francisco Xavier, 524
Maracan~
a, Rio de Janeiro RJ, CEP: 20550-
013, Brazil.
Tel: +55 21 2334 0260/0525;
Fax: +55 21 2334 0546;
E-mail: jcreed@uerj.br
Funding Information
The authors acknowledge financial support
from UERJ Prociencia, the National Council for
Scientific and Technological Development
CNPq n°151431/2014-0, Carlos Chagas Filho
Foundation for Research Support of the State
of Rio de Janeiro FAPERJ, Foundation for
Research Support of the State of Minas Gerais
FAPEMIG Brazilian Coordination for the
Improvement of Higher Education Personnel
(CAPES) and funding for the Projeto Coral-Sol
from Petrobras through the Petrobras
Environmental Program.
Received: 21 June 2014; Revised: 30 March
2015; Accepted: 2 April 2015
doi: 10.1002/ece3.1506
Abstract
Tubastraea tagusensis, a coral native to the Galapagos Archipelago, has success-
fully established and invaded the Brazilian coast where it modifies native tropi-
cal rocky shore and coral reef communities. In order to understand the
processes underlying the establishment of T. tagusensis, we tested whether
Maxent, a tool for species distribution modeling, based on the native range of
T. tagusensis correctly forecasted the invasion range of this species in Brazil.
The Maxent algorithm was unable to predict the Brazilian coast as a suitable
environment for the establishment of T. tagusensis. A comparison between these
models and a principal component analysis (PCA) allowed us to examine the
environmental dissimilarity between the two occupied regions (native and
invaded) and to assess the species’ occupied niche breadth. According to the
PCA results, lower levels of chlorophyll-aand nitrate on the Atlantic coast seg-
regate the Brazilian and Galapagos environments, implying that T. tagusensis
may have expanded its realized niche during the invasion process. We tested
the possible realized niche expansion in T. tagusensis by assuming that Tubast-
raea spp. have similar fundamental niches, which was supported by exploring
the environmental space of T. coccinea, a tropical-cosmopolitan congener of
T. tagusensis. We believe that the usage of Maxent should be treated with cau-
tion, especially when applied to biological invasion (or climate change) scenar-
ios where the target species has a highly localized native (original) distribution,
which may represent only a small portion of its fundamental niche, and there-
fore a violation of a SDM assumption.
Introduction
Biological invasions are one of the biggest conservation
concerns and have profound impacts in an integrated glo-
bal society (Aguin-Pombo et al. 2012). In marine envi-
ronments, invasive species threaten biodiversity, the
economy (including fisheries and tourism), and human
health (Bax et al. 2003; Sorte et al. 2010). Much effort by
ª2015 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use,
distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
1
the scientific community has been focused on providing
information that can be used to prevent such invasion
events or manage them. In this context, innovative com-
putational tools capable of predicting species distributions
soon became popular in studies of biological invasions
(Jim
enez-Valverde et al. 2011).
These tools, often called species distribution models
(hereafter SDMs), which include Maxent (see below),
yield potential distributional maps of a given species
based on the environmental conditions (or climatic enve-
lopes) associated with the species presence (Corsi et al.
2000; Peterson and Shaw 2003). Considering the species
environmental conditions requirements as part of its
niche (Grinnell 1917; Hutchinson 1957), the use of SDMs
for predicting invasion assumes that the species maintains
its niche across space during the process of invasion (Bro-
ennimann 2007; Pearman et al. 2008; Peterson 2011).
If this niche persistence assumption is violated, that is,
if a change occurs in the species’ observed niche during
the invasion process, the use of Maxent for predicting
invasions may be compromised (R
odder and L
otters
2009). This is especially critical in cases where only the
native occurrence range of the species is well known (for
example, when considering risk assessment of invasion
potential into new regions), or, more likely, when the
invasion has just begun and data on the invasion distri-
bution range are limited (Broennimann and Guisan 2008;
Anderson and Raza 2010). Moreover, observed niche vari-
ation has been suggested to occur in invasion events
(Broennimann et al. 2007; R
odder and L
otters 2009; but
see Guisan et al. 2014) and thus understanding whether a
given species maintains its niche breadth or not is crucial
to assess the usefulness of a particular SDM in predicting
invasions and thus for conservation.
The scleractinian Tubastraea tagusensis (Fig. 1) is an
azooxanthellate and ahermatypic coral species endemic to
the Galapagos archipelago. Even in the archipelago this
species is restricted to shallow waters along the coasts
of certain islands (Wells 1982), but in the early 2000s,
T. tagusensis was reported on the South Atlantic coastline
of Brazil as a nonindigenous species (de Paula and Creed
2004) and soon expanded its range. Today its range
reaches over 2000 km along the Brazilian coast. T. tagus-
ensis is capable of outcompeting local organisms, includ-
ing endemic species (Creed 2006). Another species from
the Pacific, T. coccinea, has also invaded the Atlantic
reaching Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean
Sea, with occurrences in Texas and Florida (USA) (Fenner
and Banks 2004; de Paula and Creed 2004; Sammarco
et al. 2004). Unlike its congener, T. coccinea is more
broadly distributed through its native Indo-Pacific region
(Cairns 2000).
Our goal was to assess what are the main environmen-
tal factors driving the successful invasion of the originally
narrowly distributed species T. tagusensis throughout the
Brazilian coast. We also investigated whether it would be
possible to predict the invasion of T. tagusensis in Brazil
using only its native distribution as the predictor to feed
the model, as information on the invaded range of a
newly introduced species is usually limited and so it is
commonplace for models to make predictions using only
the available native occurrence records. As the native dis-
tribution of T. tagusensis is quite narrow, we also tested
whether model predictions for the broadly distributed
and also invasive congener T. coccinea were capable of
predicting both species’ invasion, using it as a proxy for
the genus, in order to better understand the distributional
aspects and species specificities of the invasion of the
genus Tubastraea into the Atlantic.
Materials and Methods
Selection of a species distribution model
Many SDMs consist of algorithms capable of providing a
potential distribution map of a given species, associating its
occurrence (geographical coordinate) data with environ-
mental conditions extracted from those occurrence points
(Anderson and Raza 2010). The assessment of biological
variable values associated with the presence of the species
provides the potential suitability of a given location to the
species occurrence (Peterson 2003). As our correlative
modeling algorithm, we chose Maxent 3.3.3a, because this
presence-background tool (Phillips et al. 2006; Phillips and
Dudik 2008) has been shown to perform well in compara-
tive studies (Elith et al. 2006; Hernandez et al. 2006; Wisz
et al. 2008; ). Furthermore, this method has also performed
well in previous studies of marine species, like stony coral
species (Tittensor et al. 2009), and outperforms other
Figure 1. The invasive cup coral Tubastraea tagusensis.
2ª2015 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Niche Expansion of an Invasive Coral L. A. Carlos-J
unior et al.
algorithms when modeling with few species records with
restricted distributions, as is the case for T. tagusensis (Her-
nandez et al. 2006). The basic output of Maxent is intuitive
probabilities of occurrence estimated from a set of environ-
mental layers (Phillips and Dudik 2008). Maxent estimates
a species’ environmental niche by finding the distribution
closest to uniform when the expected value for each value
(i.e., environmental variable) under the estimated distribu-
tion matches its empirical average. This approach is called
maximum entropy and it basically finds a maximum-likeli-
hood distribution for the species considering the given
environmental information at the presence points of the
species, given as geographic coordinates (Phillips et al.
2004).
Species occurrence data
We combined the records containing the species occurrence
as geographical coordinates available in the literature with
online databases (Ocean Biogeographic Information System
(OBIS http://www.iobis.org/ last accessed in November
2014) (Vanden Berghe 2007), Global Biodiversity Informa-
tion Facility (GBIF http://www.gbif.org, last accessed in
November 2014), and the Cria species Link (http://
www.splink.org.br, last accessed in May 2012)) to find 11
points of occurrence for Tubastraea tagusensis in the Gala-
pagos Archipelago, which is a small but sufficient number
of records to model in Maxent (Hernandez et al. 2006;
Pearson et al. 2007). We used the same abovementioned
online data sources to obtain 57 occurrence records for the
cosmopolitan sibling species Tubastraea coccinea, Lesson
1829. These data were used to compare the occupied envi-
ronmental range of the congeners.
Environmental variables
We extracted the environmental variables from available
on Bio-Oracle marine dataset (Tyberghein et al. 2011). It
comprises 23 variables in GIS-based raster grids with a 5
arcmin (approximately 9.2 km) spatial resolution and
performs well in explaining the distribution of marine
organisms (Tyberghein et al. 2011). These raster files were
managed in Arc-Gis 9.3 to provide masks for the targeted
regions of the globe. To avoid overparameterized analyses
(Ginzburg and Jensen 2004), we selected a subset of pre-
dicting variables based on a correlation level threshold
(r=0.85) and on exploratory analyses. This cutoff was
chosen following intermediate and similar procedures
described in other studies (Rissler and Apodaca 2007;
Werneck et al. 2011) in which even variables with
r>0.50 should not be excluded a priori (Drake et al.
2006). The selected variables were mean calcite concentra-
tion (calcite, mol/m³), maximum photosynthetically avail-
able radiation (parmax, Einstein/m²/day), mean pH (pH),
mean salinity (salinity, PPS), mean nitrate concentration
(nitrate, lmol/L), and maximum chlorophyll-aconcentra-
tion (chlomax, mg/m³). Despite their general importance
to the distribution of marine organisms, mean, maxi-
mum, range, and minimum temperatures were among
the excluded variables due to their poor individual contri-
bution to model gain in preliminary training models.
Although the six selected variables were selected to
explore the environmental occupied niche of the two species
(see “Principal Component Analysis” section below), the
relatively small number of T. tagusensis occurrence records
(n=11) limits the use of them in the Maxent model. The
excess of predictors on a SDM leads to overfitting (Warren
and Seifert 2011), a methodological bias that undermines
confidence on the transferability of the model, particularly
in studies when the goal is to project the distribution of a
species from one place to another (as in our case) (Beau-
mont et al. 2005; Peterson et al. 2007; Radosavljevic and
Anderson 2014). In fact, our first exploratory models using
all the variables and different regularization multipliers
(indicated as a good way to search for overfitting; see Warren
and Seifert 2011 and Radosavljevic and Anderson 2014 for
details) suggested overfitting on the models that used more
parameters. This reinforces the importance of variable selec-
tion for modeling assessments. Thus, two variables were
chosen based on the importance of each variable to model
gain in those aforementioned exploratory models and the
knowledge of the authors regarding the biology of the spe-
cies. The first was chlomax, which serves a proxy for com-
munity type, because it measures the quantity of
phytoplankton on the water. The second was mean nitrate
concentration, as a limiting nutrient for marine organisms.
SDM evaluation
For the native areas where the Maxent algorithm was cali-
brated, 75% of the occurrence records were used for
model development and the remaining 25% of the data
set was used to evaluate model performance. For pro-
jected areas (i.e., the invaded regions), we used the entire
set of native region occurrences to develop the model and
the known records from the Brazilian coast for model
evaluation. In both scenarios, we used the area under
curve (AUC test) for model evaluation. AUC test com-
prises a threshold-independent measure of model perfor-
mance as compared with the null hypothesis for the
prediction (Fielding and Bell 1997). When the AUC is
0.50, the model performance is considered to be low, no
better than random prediction, and higher AUC values
indicate better prediction results. We used minimum
training presence as our convergence threshold and per-
formed 11 bootstrapped replicates.
ª2015 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 3
L. A. Carlos-J
unior et al. Niche Expansion of an Invasive Coral
Principal component analysis
Principal components analysis (PCA) was the ordination
method applied in this study. This distance-based metric
was generated using the R statistical program with the
analytical package stats (R Development Core Team,
2014). For the PCA, we gathered occurrence data of
T. tagusensis for both native and invaded regions. Since
2000, the Consorcio Projeto Coral-Sol (Sun-Coral Project
Consortium Instituto Brasileiro de Biodiversidade and
Fundac
ß
~
ao OndAzul) has been monitoring Tubastraea
spp. and maintains the National Sun-Coral Database
from which occurrence data were extracted. Our final
PCA matrix consisted of 29 T. tagusensis records for
Brazil, 11 points from Galapagos and the six selected
environmental variables. Furthermore, we tested the pos-
sible realized niche expansion in T. tagusensis (Peterson
2011) by assuming that Tubastraea spp. have similar
fundamental niches, which is common between sibling
species. Thus, in order to explore this assumption, we
used 57 occurrence records of T. coccinea, the tropical-
cosmopolitan congener of T. tagusensis, from its native
region, the Indo-Pacific. These were obtained from the
online databases cited above (see section: Species occur-
rence data).
We also used the framework protocol suggested by
Guisan et al. (2014) in order to further explore the niche
variations shown in the PCA. This framework is useful to
decompose the various elements of a niche change and to
objectively calculate niche expansion. The so-called COUE
scheme (from Centroid, Overlap, Unfilling and Expan-
sion) allowed us to determine the change in mean niche
position by Centroid (C) measures, nonindigenous niche
Expansion (E) or Unfilling (U) when compared to the
native range and, finally, niche stability (Sp) of pooled
range spaces between the two ranges. For our purposes,
Spis equal to the Overlap (O) between those two ranges
and measures the amount of superposition between two
distributions. The overlapping ratio is given by the pro-
portion of the entire pool of occurrences of the species
present in both ranges, native and nonindigenous, which
may be considered as a surrogate for niche maintenance,
or stability, during the invasion. Centroid shifts indicate
change in mean niche position and Unfilling or Expan-
sion can be considered to be the nonoverlapping parts of
two niches and are informative measures when consider-
ing the relative change between the nonindigenous and
the native ranges of a given species. Thus, while Spor O
is measures of stability, U and E are a proxy for detecting
the extent of change between two distributions. For a full
description of the methods and terminology, see Guisan
et al. (2014).
Results
It was possible to develop highly predictive models for
the Galapagos Archipelago using 75% of the native occur-
rence records to predict the presence of T. tagusensis in
the area (AUC =0.96). Nevertheless, using only native
occurrence record data, the potential distribution model
of T. tagusensis predicts no environmental suitability for
the species on the southern Atlantic coast of Brazil
(Fig. 2A).
The first two PCA axes explained 33% of the variation in
the environmental data. Axis 2 of the PCA was effective in
segregating the Brazilian and Galapagos environments,
which partially explains the modeled prediction failure
(Fig. 3). Maximum chlorophyll, mean nitrate and mean
salinity gradients explained most of the variation. Overall,
for the second axis, there was no overlap between the two
environments (Galapagos records vs. Brazilian records).
Therefore, E =1 and U =1; while Sp=0. On the other
hand, the 57 Indo-Pacific occurrence records of T. coccinea
are broadly spread along both axes and some of the points
overlap both the Galapagos and the Brazilian ranges. The
variables responsible for segregating the native and invaded
ranges of the species are the same variables (chlomax and
nitrate) selected to model the species. In addition, the model
using the native occurrence records of T. coccinea not only
successfully predicts the species invasion in Brazil (AUC
test=0.95) but is also capable of predicting the occurrence
of its congener (T. tagusensis) in Brazil (AUC test =0.99;
Fig. 2B). This is consistent with our field observations in
Brazil, where we find that the two species usually coexist
when present at the same sites.
Discussion
Our analyses show that based on the abiotic conditions
from the native region of T. tagusensis, the potential dis-
tribution model does not predict environmental suitabil-
ity for this coral on the southern Atlantic coast. Wide
tolerance to environmental conditions is a common fea-
ture of successful invaders (Miller et al. 2007; K
uster
et al. 2008), and Tubastraea has shown a wide tolerance
to temperature, occurring in both tropical warm waters
and temperate regions or even in upwelling colder water
regions (Cairns 2000; Paula and Creed 2005; Paz-Garc
ıa
et al. 2007; Glynn et al. 2008). This could explain the
relative unimportance of temperature to the species
modeling.
Tubastraea tagusensis was first recorded in Rio de
Janeiro on tropical rocky shores (RJ Fig. 2A) where it has
successfully invaded and occupied the coast (Castro and
Pires 2001; de Paula and Creed 2004; Mizrahi 2008) and
4ª2015 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Niche Expansion of an Invasive Coral L. A. Carlos-J
unior et al.
where monitoring has shown that the populations are
well established (Silva et al. 2014). In Rio de Janeiro
State, these shores undergo sporadic localized coastal
upwelling. Other records have been reported further
south on subtropical rocky shores (S~
ao Paulo state SP)
(Mantelatto et al. 2011) and north on coral reefs (Bahia
state BA) (Fig. 2) (Sampaio et al. 2012) so the range
occupied by T. tagusensis in the invaded regions is quite
substantial.
We identify three explanations for such a prediction
failure: (1) the package of abiotic variables used is not
suitable for our modeling objectives, (2) the environmen-
tal layers used to generate the models could be incapable
of explaining the abiotic requirements of T. tagusensis
(the distribution of this species could be either regulated
by environmental conditions different from those used in
our modeling approach, biotic interactions, or by stochas-
ticity), and (3) the broad environmental requirement of
the species allows it to be successfully established in two
environmentally distinct regions (the Galapagos Pacific
region and the southern Atlantic coast of Brazil).
We consider the first explanation unlikely as: (1)
exploratory models fed with different sets of variables
yielded similar results, (2) the data source used to gener-
ate both models has been broadly and successfully used
to yield distribution maps of several marine organisms
(Tyberghein et al. 2011) including corals, and (3) the
model generated for T. coccinea, the tropical-cosmopoli-
tan congener of T. tagusensis, was successful in predicting
both its own occurrence and also the occurrence of T. ta-
gusensis in the southwest Atlantic (Fig. 2B). It is highly
unlikely that the environmental layers are irrelevant for
T. tagusensis. Moreover, the training model (using 75% of
occurrences to train the model and 25% to test it)
successfully predicted the native distributional range of
T. tagusensis in Galapagos (AUC =0.96) indicating that it
is unlikely that the variables used were not relevant for
the species.
Due to its oceanographic settling, the marine environ-
ment in Galapagos is unique and variable. This is due to
the equatorial upwelling of cool, nutrient-rich water
which affects the entire archipelago (Houvenaghel 1978;
Wyrtki 1981) being punctuated by highly irregular (scale
of several years) effects of El Ni~
no Southern Oscillation
(ENSO) events which may cease equatorial upwelling and
cause sudden extreme changes in surface waters. These
changes impact the archipelago’s marine community,
including corals, which is subjected to wide fluctuation in
many abiotic variables (Glynn and de Weerdt 1991; Wit-
man and Smith 2003). Although the Bio-Oracle marine
dataset contains some range variables (Tybergh-
ein et al. 2011), our model might not have adequately
RJ
SP
BA
(A) (B)
Figure 2. Distribution maps for the invasive
corals Tubastraea spp. (A) Potential distribution
map of T. tagusensis for the Brazilian coast
using only native points to feed the model.
White area represents environmental suitability
below 10%. This predicted low conformity
between the area conditions and the species
niche is contrasted with the actual occurrence
and settlement of several populations of
T. tagusensis in Brazil (gray triangles) and
(B) native occurrence records of T. coccinea
used to predict its own potential distribution in
Brazil. Coastal areas with environmental
suitability above 80% are shown in black, and
areas with suitability above 70% are shown in
dark gray. T. tagusensis presence records are
shown as gray triangles.
ª2015 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 5
L. A. Carlos-J
unior et al. Niche Expansion of an Invasive Coral
captured the temporal variability inherent in the oceano-
graphic setting in which the species occurs. This mis-
match could explain why the model did not predict the
successful invasion of T. tagusensis in Brazil.
Despite the high seasonal variability intrinsic to the
archipelago’s oceanography, the failure of the model in
predicting the known habitat suitability in Brazil might
also be explained by real spatial environmental dissimilar-
ities between the native and invaded ranges of the species.
Thus, colonizing and establishing in Brazil represented a
spatial expansion of the observed niche of T. tagusensis.It
is important to note that the second and third explana-
tions are not mutually exclusive as the irregular annual-
decadal instability of environmental conditions in the
Galapagos Archipelago may have selected euryoecious
organisms capable of inhabiting and invading different
environments.
Interestingly, in its native range in the Galapagos
Archipelago, T. tagusensis is restricted to certain islands
(Wells 1982). Theoretically, restricted endemic organisms
are expected to have very specific habitat requirements, a
fact taken into account, for example, in predicting extinc-
tions in climate changing scenarios (Thomas et al. 2004;
Malcolm et al. 2006). Indeed after a particularly severe
ENSO event in 19821983, T. tagusensis was thought to
have become extinct in the Galapagos (Glynn and de
Weerdt 1991), but re-established subsequently. Neverthe-
less, narrow distribution ranges are not necessarily associ-
ated with strict climatic requirements, as seems to be the
case for T. tagusensis. Some originally restricted species
can present broader niche breadths, as already observed,
for example, in trees and birds (Schwartz et al. 2006) and
frogs (Williams et al. 2006). In the former study, 87% of
the endangered plant species, all endemic to Florida, may
have been poorly designated as threatened by assuming
that their current restricted range reflects narrow environ-
mental tolerances. The highly localized native distribution
of T. tagusensis is intriguing and may reflect the interac-
tion of sporadic climatic effects, limitation of dispersion,
and/or limitations of biotic interactions (e.g., competition
or predation) (see Edgar et al. 2010) rather than restric-
tive nonsuitable environmental conditions.
In Brazil, human transportation vectors have helped
the species to overcome the dispersal barriers that might
constrain it in its native environment. Moreover, the
receptor community lacks natural predators of Tubastraea
(Moreira and Creed 2012). Thus, although T. tagusensis
might be restricted in the Galapagos by localized biotic or
dispersal limitation constraints, in Brazil it may expand
its geographical range unchecked. The PCA showed dis-
similarity between the Galapagos and the Brazilian envi-
ronments for the occurrence of T. tagusensis. Seeing as
T. tagusensis has successfully invaded the Brazilian coast,
this ordination result supports a wider environmental
range of T. tagusensis, because the native “climatic enve-
lope” occupied by this species is clearly distinct from the
invaded environment. According to the studies of Broen-
nimann et al. (2007), R
odder and L
otters (2009), and
Medley (2010) this mismatch is indicative of a species
with a broad fundamental niche breadth, but it is also
clear evidence of a realized niche expansion during the
process of invasion and establishment into a new region.
Sometimes the climate envelope in the nonindigenous
range poorly represents the native environment (Soberon
and Townsend Peterson 2011; Guisan et al. 2014). When
this is modeled and projected, the consequent displace-
ment of the species distributional cloud onto the nonin-
digenous range could lead to a false impression of
evolutionary “niche shift”.
The niche expansion of T. tagusensis reflects the
enlargement in the realized niche of the species (Broenni-
mann et al. 2007). Unlike T. tagusensis,T. coccinea is a
cosmopolitan species occurring throughout the Pacific
(Cairns 1994). Its wide native range and corresponding
environmental conditions have allowed it to successfully
invade the tropical southwest Atlantic and Caribbean Sea
(Cairns 2000; Fenner 2001; Fenner and Banks 2004). If
these Tubastraea spp. have similar fundamental niches, a
common trait between sibling species (see the Niche Con-
servatism Hypothesis, Peterson 2011), the successful inva-
sion of T. tagusensis could be due to an expansion in its
realized niche. If T. tagusensis has a broad fundamental
Figure 3. Principal components analysis of abiotic variables from the
occurrence records of the Tubastraea coccinea (Indo-Pacific Ocean)
and T. tagusensis (Brazil and Galapagos Archipelago) populations.
6ª2015 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Niche Expansion of an Invasive Coral L. A. Carlos-J
unior et al.
niche breadth shared with its congener T. coccinea, this
would allow the observed realized niche to vary during
the process of invasion in Brazil. This is consistent with
the PCA results. In Brazil, the two species frequently co-
occur, sometimes physically fusing their colonies, and
although a number of comparative studies have been car-
ried out, only small differences in traits have been identi-
fied, such as in substratum preference and sexual
maturation periods (Mangelli and Creed 2012; de Paula
et al. 2014).
The genus Tubastraea is generally rare in areas with
dense and diverse coral populations in the Pacific (Wood
1983), whereas in Brazil, T. tagusensis can become domi-
nant, outcompetes native corals (Creed 2006), and has no
effective predators (Moreira and Creed 2012). This enemy
release (Crawley 1987; Keane and Crawley 2002) is
another determinant of the successful expansion of T. ta-
gusensis. The co-occurrence of ecological and evolutionary
processes seems to be the most parsimonious explanation
for the niche shift observed and the invasive success of
T. tagusensis (Dietz and Edwards 2006; Van Kleunen et al.
2010).
This niche expansion highlights the need for caution in
using modeling techniques such as Maxent in climate
change scenarios (e.g., Jueterbock et al. 2013), where
potentially false assumptions of steadiness of the environ-
mental requirements of the species (in space and time)
may result in erroneous predictions and misinterpretation
of potential impacts (Schwartz et al. 2006; R
odder and
L
otters 2009). This study suggests that predicting species
invasion using “climatic envelopes” in Maxent can be
particularly tricky or even misleading when dealing with
species with limited native distributions and few records
from the non-native range or when only the native range
occurrence data are available (Fitzpatrick et al. 2007; Bro-
ennimann and Guisan 2008; Jim
enez-Valverde et al.
2011). In predictive studies of biological invasions, such
problems can lead to poor risk assessments and poten-
tially ineffective conservation strategies, resulting in eco-
nomical and ecological damage (Lockwood et al. 2007).
Acknowledgments
The authors acknowledge financial support from UERJ
Prociencia, the National Council for Scientific and Tech-
nological Development CNPq n°151431/2014-0, Carlos
Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support of the
State of Rio de Janeiro FAPERJ, Brazilian Coordination
for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel
(CAPES), Foundation for Research Support of the State
of Minas Gerais FAPEMIG and funding for the Projeto
Coral-Sol from Petrobras through the Petrobras Environ-
mental Program. Authors also thank Marcelo Mantellato
for help with some of the occurrence data collection. We
thank two anonymous reviewers and the editor for
invaluable comments and suggestions during the peer-
review process. JCC thanks the keen interest shown by
Anna Maria Scofano, Monica Linhares, and Ricardo
Coutinho (Petrobras). Scientific contribution No. 21 of
the Projeto Coral-Sol.
Conflict of Interest
None declared.
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... The invasive corals Tubastraea coccinea Lesson, 1829, andTubastraea tagusensis Wells, 1982, are habitat-forming species that cause significant changes in marine ecosystems (Carlos-Júnior et al., 2015;Sammarco et al., 2015). Their recorded impacts include shifts in fish trophic interactions (Miranda et al., 2018a); the displacement of native corals, zoanthids (Creed, 2006;Luz and Kitahara, 2017), and sponges (Silva et al., 2017); reduced benthic cover of native species (Lages et al., 2011;Miranda et al., 2016); and changes to the fish biomass (Mizrahi et al., 2017). ...
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Tubastraea coccinea is an azooxanthellate and ahermatypic coral. Originary from the South Pacific, it has rapidly spread throughout tropical regions around the world, and currently is considered cosmopolitan. Features such as its early reproductive age, fast growth and reproduction, artificial or new substrate preferences and high competitive success promotes its expansion, and those are the reasons of being considered an invasive species. The abiotic factors light and temperature were analyzed in the present case, in order to establish their influence on growth and reproduction in the process of colonization of T. coccinea in Arraial do Cabo. The influence of these factors was studied, by observations in situ, at four sampling sites where the coral occurred, and by manipulations in laboratory. The fastest growth by area estimated (4.59 cm2 year-1) corresponding to the sampling place with the highest average annual temperature (AAT=21.63°C), and with highest frequencies of temperatures above 22°C. In contrast, the lowest growth rate (1.14 cm2 year -1) was recorded at the sampling place with lower temperatures (AAT=20.82°C). The influence of temperature on growth was in turn demonstrated at laboratory, where the highest oxygen consumption rate was estimated at 28 ° C and the lowest at 14°C. There were no proves of light influence in the growth of T. coccinea. The assessment of the influence of these factors in reproduction was focused on a process with great ecological significance in benthic organisms: the recruitment. In this regard, all sampled places showed the same pattern throughout the year. This was characterized by the presence of a maximum recruitment (April - May/2007), corresponding to the first annual peak of larvae release, and recruitment was low during the second peak of release (September-November/2007). This difference in the observed response would be due to the upwelling phenomenon that occurs during this period in the region, which caused increasing frequencies of low temperatures, in contrast to the first period. It also showed the influence on recruitment of both light and temperature in laboratory experiments and it was prove limitation of the settlement of larvae at low temperatures (18°C) with no effect of light. At high temperatures (28°C), settlement was higher and regulated by light conditions (greater settlement at low luminosity). It was concluded that the temperature was a limiting factor for recruitment, while light would be a regulating factor, when the thermal conditions are favorable. This study is profitable to contribute with strategies for controlling this alien species.
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Biological invasions are a large-scale phenomenon considered after habitat loss, the major threat to world biodiversity. In the last decades due to global trade and improvement of transport, humans and their goods have moved around the globe at an increasing rate. As an outcome of human activities, introductions of alien species have increased significantly resulting in a substantially increment in the number of pests caused by exotic organisms. The continuous expansion of invasive species is responsible for a significant impact on biodiversity and natural resources, industries, commerce and human health. Today the expansion and acceleration of biological invasions is an ecological problem at planetary scale equivalent to some of the well-known environmental issues such as global warming and rainforest destruction. Teacher’s understandings of this complex topic and appropriate environmental-based science curricula are important steps to educate future citizens to be capable to limit further introduction of invasive species.
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