Cordell, J. R., C. Levy, and J.D. Toft. 2012. Ecological implications of invasive tunicates associated with artificial structures in Puget Sound, Washington, USA. Biological Invasions DOI: 10.1007/10530-012-0366-y.
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The non-native tunicates Didemnum vexillum, Ciona savignyi, and Styela clava are of concern to resource managers of Puget Sound, Washington, USA because they have been shown to threaten native species diversity and shellfish aquaculture in other regions. Invasive tunicates in Puget Sound occur mainly on man-made structures such as floating docks and aquaculture facilities. We conducted studies of the three species of concern and a fourth introduced tunicate, Botrylloides violaceus, that occur on these structures to evaluate their effects on mussels and native invertebrate communities. Because most studies of community effects of tunicates have dealt with sessile fouling organisms, we focused instead on epibenthic organisms such as meiofaunal harpacticoid copepods and macrofaunal polychaetes and amphipods that are known to be important prey for juvenile salmon and other small fish. Similar studies have shown mixed results, with negative, positive, or no effects depending on the species. We also found few community-level effects. Abundances of several species were lower when tunicates were present, but only at some of the sites. Several other species, including a non-native isopod, were significantly more abundant in the presence of tunicates. However, in most cases results were not statistically significant and more intensive, controlled sampling or experiments may be needed to demonstrate any consistent tunicate effects. Although invasive tunicates cause problems for mussel growers elsewhere, we did not find negative effects on mussels at four sites in Puget Sound. Given the large impacts known to accompany tunicate invasions elsewhere and their relatively recent invasions into Puget Sound, monitoring of their populations and effects should continue in the region.