The observed rates and deleterious impacts of biological invasions have caused significant alarm in recent years, driving efforts to reduce the risk (establishment) of new introductions. Characterizing the supply of propagules is key to understanding invasion risk and developing effective management strategies. In coastal ecosystems, ships' ballast water is an important transfer mechanism (vector) for marine and freshwater species. Commercial ships exhibit a high degree of variation in ballast water operations that affect both the quantity and quality of propagule supply, and thereby invasion risk. The per-ship inoculation size from ballast water depends upon both the volume discharged and the organism density. Moreover, propagule quality will vary among source regions (ports) and voyage routes, due to differences in species composition and transport conditions, respectively. We show that significant differences exist in (i) the frequency and volume of ballast water discharge among vessel types, (ii) the frequency of vessel types and routes (source regions) among recipient ports, and (iii) the transit success (survivorship) of zooplankton in ballast tanks among voyage routes. Thus, propagule supply is not a simple function of total ship arrivals. For ships, as well as other vectors, variation in propagule quantity and quality must be explicitly considered to estimate invasion risk and advance predictive ability.



  • As this paper exceeds the maximum length normally permitted, the authors have agreed to contribute to production costs.

    • Received October 21, 2004.
    • Accepted March 7, 2005.
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