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European green crabs (Carcinus maenas) in the northeastern Pacific: genetic evidence for high population connectivity and current-mediated expansion from a single introduced source population

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Abstract Aim 

The European green crab (Carcinus maenas) expanded dramatically after its introduction to the west coast of North America, spreading over 1000 km in < 10 years. We use samples of Carcinus maenas collected over time and space to investigate the genetic patterns underlying the species’ initial establishment and spread, and discuss our findings in the context of the species’ life history characteristics and demography. Location 

The central west coast of North America, encompassing California, Oregon, and Washington (USA) and British Columbia (Canada). Methods 

We collected 1040 total samples from 21 sites representing the major episodes of population establishment and expansion along the west coast of North America. Microsatellite markers were used to assess genetic diversity and structure at different time points in the species’ spread, to investigate connectivity between embayments and to estimate both short-term effective population sizes and the number of original founders. Assignment testing was performed to determine the likely source of the introduction. Results 

Carcinus maenas in western North America likely derived from a single introduction of a small number of founders to San Francisco Bay, CA from the east coast of North America. Throughout its western North American range, the species experiences periodic migration between embayments, resulting in a minor loss of genetic diversity in more recently established populations versus the populations in the area of initial establishment. Main conclusions 

Low genetic diversity has not precluded the ability of C. maenas to successfully establish and spread on the west coast of North America. An efficient oceanographic transport mechanism combined with highly conducive life history traits are likely the major drivers of C. maenas spread. Evidence for a single introduction underscores the potential utility of early detection and eradication of high-risk invasive species.

Keywords: Biological invasions; El Niño–Southern Oscillation; invasion dynamics; larval dispersal; marine invasions; range expansion

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Molecular Ecology Research Branch, Cincinnati, OH 45268, USA 2: Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 8272 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing, CA 95039 3: Department of Environmental Science & Policy, One Shields Ave., University of California, Davis, CA 95616–8576, USA

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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