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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
elis A. Carlos-J
, Danilo M. Neves
, Newton P. U. Barbosa
, Timothy P. Moulton
Joel C. Creed
Departamento de Ecologia e Evoluc
ao, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Rua S~
ao Francisco Xavier, 524 Maracan~
a, Rio de Janeiro,
CEP: 20550-013, Brazil
Coral-Sol Research, Technological Development and Innovation Network, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 20a Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH3 5LR, UK
Departamento de Biologia Geral, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Avenida Ant^
onio Carlos, 6627 Pampulha, Belo Horizonte 31270901,
Coral species, marine invasions, niche
breadth, species distribution modeling,
Tubastraea coccinea,Tubastraea tagusensis.
Joel C. Creed, Departamento de Ecologia e
ao, Universidade do Estado do Rio de
Janeiro, Rua S~
ao Francisco Xavier, 524
a, Rio de Janeiro RJ, CEP: 20550-
013, Brazil.
Tel: +55 21 2334 0260/0525;
Fax: +55 21 2334 0546;
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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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.
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 last accessed in November
2014) (Vanden Berghe 2007), Global Biodiversity Informa-
tion Facility (GBIF, last accessed in
November 2014), and the Cria species Link (http://, 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
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).
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.
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
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
et al. 2007; Glynn et al. 2008). This could explain the
relative unimportance of temperature to the species
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
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
(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
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
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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.
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
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).
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). ...
... In previous studies, Tubastraea species did not have a significant preference for specific substrate types. It reproduced asexually, which allowed population maintenance, and tolerated wide temperature ranges in the Atlantic (Creed & de Paula 2007;Carlos-Júnior et al., 2015;Santos et al., 2019), suggesting a high potential for the colonization of shipwrecks and other artificial reefs. Moreover, these coral colonies exhibit clonality (Capel et al., 2019), high oocyte production, a precocious reproduction age, short embryo incubation time, and hermaphroditism, in addition to producing buoyant larvae viable for up to 18 days; all features which favor short-term dispersion and invasive ...
Full-text available
The invasive coral Tubastraea tagusensis (sun coral) is a habitat-forming species currently increasing its geographical range into the Atlantic Ocean, thereby causing negative ecological and socioeconomic impacts. Scuba divers observed this coral in the western equatorial Atlantic in January 2020, growing at high densities on a shipwreck from World War II (sunk in 1943) at a depth of approximately 32 m. Available footage from the beginning of the decade (2012–2018) shows no obvious signs of sun coral on this shipwreck, suggesting recent colonization and range expansion. The recent evidence of expansion was found 200 km east of the last record, which was also found on a WWII shipwreck (sunk in 1942) in 2016. We have identified hundreds of overlooked WWII shipwrecks, as well as new wrecks in shallow and mesophotic waters, that may provide stepping-stone habitats for this coral to expand its distribution in the Atlantic. We discuss the role of shipwrecks as a network of stepping stones for the sun coral spread, creating complementary paths for the invasiveness by overcoming physiological traits and the short lifespan of the coral larvae. Previous research underestimates the importance of these artificial stepping-stone patches in sustaining crucial dispersal events and range expansion of invasive species. These results are a call to action to manage the invasive Tubastraea corals at a national and international scale in the Atlantic basin.
... Variables affecting T. coccinea spread operate at different spatial scales, resulting in data limitations and modelling challenges [40,41]. Coral range projections have been made for more than a decade [42], including four recent studies focused on T. coccinea [14,[43][44][45]. Even though these four studies all focused mainly on the impacts of benthic and surface variables on the distributions of T. coccinea, their results differed somewhat due to the limited availability of occurrence data, the different research regions from which the data were collected, and, hence, the inclusion of different independent variables in the different models [46][47][48]. ...
Full-text available
Tubastraea coccinea is an invasive coral that has had ecological, economic, and social impacts in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Tubastraea coccinea is considered a major threat to marine biodiversity, whose occurrence in its non-native range has been associated with artificial structures such as oil/gas platforms and shipwrecks. A recent species distribution model identified important determinants of T. coccinea invasion in the northern GoM and projected its potential range expansion. However, the potential effects of anthropogenic factors were not considered. We used boosted regression trees to develop a species distribution model investigating the importance of oil/gas platforms and shipping fairways as determinants of T. coccinea invasion in the northern GoM. Our results indicate that maximum salinity, distance to platform, minimum nitrate, and mean pH were the first to fourth most influential variables, contributing 31.9%, 23.5%, 22.8%, and 21.8%, respectively, to the model. These findings highlight the importance of considering the effects of anthropogenic factors such as oil/gas platforms as potential determinants of range expansion by invasive corals. Such consideration is imperative when installing new platforms and when decommissioning retired platforms.
... Despite the existence of nine oil and gas platforms in the Ceará basin, we can only confirm the presence of T. tagusensis in one oil platform from Xaréu field (PXA-1), since the name of the oil platform and field ( Fig. 1) was described in the title of the video. Nevertheless, a careful analysis of all platforms (Fig. 2) was fundamental to investigate the hypothesis of spread of invasive corals within in the cluster of four exploration fields, due to the geographical proximity between structures (<20 km), environmental conditions (Carlos-Júnior et al., 2015), and short-term natural dispersion by coral larvae (or groups of polyps) (Jokiel, 1990; Barbosa et al., 2019), rafting (wood debris and marine litter) (Mantellato et al., 2020) or associated vessels Soares et al., 2020). Data from the other platforms in further studies would be necessary to determine whether they had spread (or not). ...
Full-text available
The objective of this study was to report, for the first time, the presence of an invasive coral (Tubastraea tagusensis) in an oil platform on the Brazilian equatorial continental shelf. This structure is located more than 1200 km north from other oil and gas structures colonized by this coral. We also discussed the retirement and decommissioning of old biofouling-encrusted oil and gas platforms (~62 platforms) from decreased production and the current oil crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This presents an ecological concern due invasive coral range expansion and potential impacts to poorly studied ecosystems such as marginal shallow-water coral reefs and mesophotic ecosystems. It is imperative that mindful risk analysis and rigorous environmental studies must precede the installation of new oil and gas platforms. In addition, decommissioning of retired structures should take into consideration marine restoration and non-indigenous species dispersal, and more specifically, Tubastraea bioinvasion.
... have multiple reproductive modes which including asexual reproduction (Glynn et al., 2008;de Paula et al., 2014;Capel et al., 2017;Luz et al., 2020); 3) resistance to variable environmental conditions (Murray et al., 2012) -Tubastraea ssp. are considered hardy to adverse environmental conditions (Capel et al., 2014;Carlos-Júnior et al., 2015) and can survive for short periods emerged (de Paula and Creed, 2005;Yamashiro, 2015); 4) early and promiscuous reproductive capacity, producing large numbers of larvae/propagules that can settle on any available substrate (McMahon, 2002) -Tubastraea ssp. have rapid and early fecundation, high growth rates and larval production over most of the year (Glynn et al., 2008;de Paula et al., 2014;Luz et al., 2020) and little preference for different substrate composition (Creed and de Paula, 2007). ...
Full-text available
The azooxanthellate corals Tubastraea coccinea and T. tagusensis invaded the Brazilian coast in the 1980s and is still in expansion, favored by lower predation and competition pressure in their new habitats. Interestingly, the native sponge Desmapsamma anchorata has been observed overgrowing these corals. Considering that competitive displacement is expected to play a major role in the successful outcome of an invasion, the present study tested the physical and chemical mechanisms possibly involved in the competition between D. anchorata and the Tubastraea corals through field and aquaria experiments as well as the Raman spectroscopy technique for chemical analysis. Our results showed that the sponge grew in all directions including over Tubastraea colonies and regardless of its presence. There was no evidence of a specific chemical response among sponges or corals. However, we observed the extrusion of mesenteric filaments and tentacles of corals and the projection of sponge tissue during interspecific interaction, which suggests that physical imposition plays a key role for space competition at micro scales. Given the interspersed nature of benthic species distributions and the fast expansion of Tubastraea, it is unlikely that D. anchorata or any other sponges could serve a biological control against these invasive corals at larger scales, but our results showed that at a microscale they can withstand the corals presence and even outgrow them locally.
Invasive species have large economic and ecological impacts and are the leading driver of extinction for both plants and animals worldwide. In the USA, coral reefs, which provide $3.4 billion per year in ecosystem services, are impacted by invasive marine species. One such species is Tubastraea coccinea, which was the first scleractinia to invade the western Atlantic and recently has spread to natural reefs within the northern Gulf of Mexico (GoM). We document this recent invasion by compiling occurrence records, develop a species distribution model identifying important determinants of invasion, and project potential range expansion. Our results indicate T. coccinea currently is distributed along the GoM coast from the Florida Keys to southern Texas, with documented localities clustered ≈ 100 km off the Louisiana coast and ≈ 200 km off the Texas coast, and sparsely distributed elsewhere. Our species distribution model identified five environmental factors that together contribute > 99% to the overall model. These factors include two surface variables (mean pH and mean calcite, contributing ≈ 40%) and three benthic variables (maximum current velocity, minimum iron, and minimum dissolved oxygen, contributing ≈ 60%). Our model suggests potential habitat for range expansion is distributed mainly within the western portion of the northern GoM, with the highest probabilities of occurrence (0.8 < P < 1.0) clustered along the Texas and Louisiana coasts between 88 and 97° W (near the border between states).
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Abstract The biology of the scleractinian Porites sverdrupi, endemic to the Gulf of California, is poorly studied. In order to fill that gap, the present study documents the reproductive biology of this coral which is to date protected by the IUCN’s as “vulnerable” and listed as “in risk of extinction” in the Mexican Federal Law for species protection. Also, potential distribution models were constructed to evaluate the status of the remaining species’ populations, and the role that reproduction has in their permanence. Porites sverdrupi show a gonochoric brooding reproductive pattern, with asynchronous gamete development regulated by sea surface temperature and light. The potential distribution models suggest that this coral currently covers less than 6% of its original range of distribution. Furthermore, the results suggest that, despite the drastic decline of the species, the remaining populations have the ability to persist even under current changing ocean conditions as successful sexual reproduction was documented even during the strong 2014–2015 ENSO event producing sexual recruits to maintain themselves.
In recent years, the use of ecological niche models (ENMs) and species distribution models (SDMs) to explore the patterns and processes behind observed distribution of species has experienced an explosive growth. Although the use of these methods has been less common and more recent in marine ecosystems than in a terrestrial context, they have shown significant increases in use and applications. Herein, we provide a systematic review of 328 articles on marine ENMs and SDMs published between 1990 and 2016, aiming to identify their main applications and the diversity of methodological frameworks in which they are developed, including spatial scale, geographic realm, taxonomic groups assessed, algorithms implemented, and data sources. Of the 328 studies, 48 % were at local scales, with a hotspot of research effort in the North Atlantic Ocean. Most studies were based on correlative approaches and were used to answer ecological or biogeographic questions about mechanisms underlying geographic ranges (64 %). A few attempted to evaluate impacts of climate change (19 %) or to develop strategies for conservation (11 %). Several correlative techniques have been used, but most common was the machine-learning approach Maxent (46 %) and statistical approaches such as generalized additive models GAMs (22 %) and generalized linear models, GLMs (14 %). The groups most studied were fish (23 %), molluscs (16 %), and marine mammals (14 %), the first two with commercial importance and the last important for conservation. We noted a lack of clarity regarding the definitions of ENMs versus SDMs, and a rather consistent failure to differentiate between them. This review exposed a need to know, reduce, and report error and uncertainty associated with species’ occurrence records and environmental data. In addition, particular to marine realms, a third dimension should be incorporated into the modelling process, referring to the vertical position of the species, which will improve the precision and utility of these models. So too is of paramount importance the consideration of temporal and spatial resolution of environmental layers to adequately represent the dynamic nature of marine ecosystems, especially in the case of highly mobile species.
The scleractinian corals Tubastraea coccinea Lesson, 1829 and T. tagusensis Wells, 1982 have invaded reefs along Brazil's coastline. Over the period 2011–2017 a standard, fast, easily repeatable semi-quantitative method was used to produce maps of distribution and a site (n=77) specific Relative Abundance Index (RAI) to determine range expansion at Cabo Frio, an upwelling region. Invaded sites doubled from six to 12 over the period (one per year) and mean abundance increased tenfold from 0.2 to 2.6 RAI and 0.22 to 1.8 RAI (T. coccinea and T. tagusensis respectively). Site specific oceanographic conditions (temperature, salinity and water transparency) and distance from currently invaded sites (a proxy for propagule pressure) were chosen and used as determinants of invasion success in order to model the expansion. Model results compared favourably with empirical mea- surements and the simple, regional, and spatially explicit model predicted future range expansion under 10 and 20 year scenarios.
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En el Pacífico Oriental Tropical (POT), los pocilopóridos representan un componente clave de las comunidades coralinas, las que se desarrollan en condiciones ambientales limitativas. El objetivo de este estudio es comprender cómo el cambio climático, en particular el aumento de la temperatura y la acidificación, podrían influir en la distribución de estas especies coralinas. Se usaron modelos de nicho ecológico para evaluar posibles cambios en la distribución geográfica de 9 especies de pocilopóridos, basados en las predicciones de aumento de temperatura y disminución del pH bajo los escenarios “vías de concentración representativa” (RCP, por sus siglas en inglés) 2.6, 4.5 y 8.5 para el año 2050. Las proyecciones elaboradas con Maxent, muestran una tendencia hacia la conservación del área de distribución de las especies en el escenario RCP 2.6, mientras que se observó un aumento en el área favorable para la mayoría de ellas bajo los escenarios RCP 4.5 y 8.5. Hacia el 2050, las condiciones óptimas para la presencia de los corales se ubicarán en latitudes altas y hacia el ecuador. Finalmente, se prevé que regiones actualmente consideradas marginales para el desarrollo arrecifal persistan y se expandan bajo condiciones futuras. Estos resultados tienen implicaciones importantes para la conservación de los arrecifes marginales bajo un clima cambiante.
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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.
Aim The use of species distribution models (SDMs) to predict biological invasions is a rapidly developing area of ecology. However, most studies investigating SDMs typically ignore prediction errors and instead focus on regions where native distributions correctly predict invaded ranges. We investigated the ecological significance of prediction errors using reciprocal comparisons between the predicted invaded and native range of the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) (hereafter called the fire ant). We questioned whether fire ants occupy similar environments in their native and introduced range, how the environments that fire ants occupy in their introduced range changed through time relative to their native range, and where fire ant propagules are likely to have originated. Location We developed models for South America and the conterminous United States (US) of America. Methods We developed models using the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction (GARP) and 12 environmental layers. Occurrence data from the native range in South America were used to predict the introduced range in the US and vice versa. Further, time-series data recording the invasion of fire ants in the US were used to predict the native range. Results Native range occurrences under-predicted the invasive potential of fire ants, whereas occurrence data from the US over-predicted the southern boundary of the native range. Secondly, introduced fire ants initially established in environments similar to those in their native range, but subsequently invaded harsher environments. Time-series data suggest that fire ant propagules originated near the southern limit of their native range. Conclusions Our findings suggest that fire ants from a peripheral native population established in an environment similar to their native environment, and then ultimately expanded into environments in which they are not found in their native range. We argue that reciprocal comparisons between predicted native and invaded ranges will facilitate a better understanding of the biogeography of invasive and native species and of the role of SDMs in predicting future distributions.
The genus Tubastraea, with natural occurrence in the Pacific Ocean, was reported for the first time in Brazil along the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Since then it has also been reported in other sites along the south and southeast Brazilian coasts in oil platforms and rocky shores. We describe for the first time the occurrence of Tubastraea tagusensis and T. coccinea in the Northeastern coast of Brazil. The corals were found in the state of Bahia, sitting on shipwrecks, marina jetties as well as occupying space on a coral reef.