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AQUAtic INVAders: Early Detection, Control and Management

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AQUAINVAD-ED (AQUAtic INVAders: Early Detection, Control and Management)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2019-05-31

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are on the rise due to increased worldwide trade and globalization, combined with the synergistic effects of climate change and habitat destruction. Because AIS negatively impact biodiversity, human health and ecosystem services (food, tourism and water provision), their control and management is a priority. Management of AIS can be tackled by: (1) early detection, (2) identification of routes of introduction and dispersal, (3) identification of impacts on ecosystems and ecosystem services, and (4) development of efficient control measures and risk assessment. Public awareness and stakeholder involvement are also critical for preventing new introductions and mitigating the impact of existing ones. The main research goal of AQUAINVAD-ED was to develop innovative methods of early detection, control and management of AIS. This was achieved by combining the expertise of scientists and other professionals from different sectors (higher education institutions, government agencies and SMEs) working on fundamental and applied aspects of AIS in three different countries (UK, Spain and Italy). The main conclusions of the action were:
• Environmental DNA barcoding and metabarcoding are effective methods for early detection and monitoring of AIS, identification of novel vectors of introduction and assessment of habitat fragmentation and dispersal of native and non-native species. Incorporating this technique into routine surveillance programs can be of great benefit.
• Species Distribution Models (SDM) can detect the most important vectors of introduction of AIS and to predict their dispersal. These methods can inform policies aiming at avoiding novel introductions.
• Accurate detection of AIS requires seasonal monitoring of ecosystems.
• Anthropogenic factors and distance to the first introduction site are amongst the most important factors determining the expansion of AIS.
• The impacts and invasion success of AIS depend not only on the biology of a single species but also on synergies between different species.
• Ecological traits can be used for control and management of AIS.
• Although there seems to be awareness among the general public on the impacts of invasive species in the three European countries surveyed (UK, Italy and Spain), more education is needed to raise awareness on ways of introduction.
• Success in reducing the introduction invasive species is possible through engagement of people of all ages, especially young audience.
The project started with literature reviews produced by all the ESRs. On this basis, a number of field and laboratory protocols were developed and optimised to use eDNA and barcoding/metabarcoding in the detection of AIS in freshwater (ESR 1) and marine environments/ballast water (ESR1, ESR 5), and to examine the role of connectivity in the dispersal of native and invasive species (ESR1). Species Distribution Models were developed to identify the main vectors of introduction and dispersal (ESR2), using UK as a testing area. This work identified ecological and anthropogenic critical factors. ESR 6 carried out a number of practical experiments to look at the role of marine litter as a vector of dispersal of AIS, initially in the Cantabrian coast to develop the sampling and analyses strategies and then expanding the work to the open ocean. Additional work was carried out to analyse the ecological factors that determine the distribution and seasonality of non-native seaweed and their co-existence with native species, using field sampling and molecular methods (ESR 8, ESR 1). In terms of control and management of AIS, ecological factors were analysed to understand invasion success in both freshwater vertebrates and invertebrates including mating behaviour (ESR 4), diet and niche overlap (ESR 3, ESR 7), and synergistic relationships between species (ESR 3, ESR 7). Additional work has analysed the success of eradication efforts using traditional field sampling and molecular methods (ESR 7, ESR 3). Finally, the dissemination/citizen science part of the project included a questionnaire on social perception of invasive species (ESR 2) and the preparation and delivery of educational material for schools and general public (ESR 8). The results have been disseminated through peer-reviewed publications and have been presented at international conferences and in the project website. All ESRs participated in 4 AQUAINVAD-ED -specific training events and in specific training courses at their institutions. ESRs have also presented their work at external conferences and 4 networking events organised by the consortium, one of them being an International conference organised as a special session of the Neobiota biannual conference ( attended by more than 100 people.
The main achievements of the project were:
• Training of 8 international Early Career Researchers to PhD level.
• One international conference on AIS control and management attended by more than 100 people.
• Development and optimisation of molecular protocols for early detection of a number of marine and freshwater AIS, including some of the most common invaders in Europe.
• Development and optimisation of molecular protocols for the monitoring of ballast water and fouled floating objects to avoid the inadvertent introduction of AIS.
• Development of ecological tools to assess the impacts of AIS (including synergies between different species).
• Development of Species Distribution Models to predict AIS dispersal based on ecological and anthropogenic factors (including routes of introduction).
• Identification of critical routes of AIS introduction and dispersal.
• Information of citizen perception of invasive species in three different European countries (UK, Italy and Spain), through a questionnaire translated into the three national languages.
• Production of educational materials and dissemination events for schools, general public and media.
• Collaboration with local stakeholders (e.g. environmental managers, port authorities) on AIS control and management.
A number of projects (from ESRs 2, 6 and 8) included a citizen science/public dissemination aspect. This resulted in several events which involved schools, the general public and port authorities and transport companies. The 1st project meeting in the UK, was jointly hosted by the Wye and Usk Foundation, including an event related to the World Migration Day. A questionnaire was distributed in the three participant countries to gather information about the social perception of invasive species. These events served to increase public awareness of the problems related to Biological Invasions, to collect novel data on public perception of AIS and to start developing citizen science programmes e.g. collaborating in the eradication of AIS in beaches and rivers and in the collection of samples for further analyses, also helping in beach cleaning and collecting biota attached to marine litter. Additional economic impact was related to the growth and internationalisation of the associated SMEs, in particular NEOALGAE, which increased its participation in EU programmes (currently 5), as well as the number of employees (7 to 18), significantly enhancing its R&D capacity. In terms of impact at the management level, AQUAINVAD-ED significantly influenced monitoring effort and INNS management budget negotiations with the Welsh Government.
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