Alien life continues after 40

It might have body of work on aquatic alien species currently stretching back 40 years, but a fluctuating ocean and existing policy initiatives such as the MSFD mean WGITMO needs to continue driving forward at the forefront of its science.
Published: 24 March 2014

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Stability over time has proved vital for ICES Working Group on Introductions and Transfers of Marine Organisms (WGITMO), established in 1969, as it embarked upon its 40th anniversary celebrations last week in Palanga, Lithuania. Dealing with multiple research and applied issues related to bioinvasions in the marine environment, the group experts have a distinguished history and wide-ranging impact when it comes to the ecological influence of non-native organisms across the ICES area – that is, those which have arrived through various human-mediated means in foreign marine environments. 

​A turning tide

However, similarly to how changing climatic conditions create the potential for new influxes of alien flora and fauna to occur, shifting global trends and altered vectors (carriers of foreign biota, like vessels and other methods of transportation) have necessitated WGITMO moving into fresh areas of cutting edge biological research and tracking. 

Warming coastal waters and the opening of the Arctic Corridor, a new cross-border economic region and transport passage connecting the Baltic Sea with Arctic Ocean deep-water ports, are two crucial developments that were rigourously addressed in Palanga. The former was under the spotlight in terms of how the increase in temperature will influence future invasions from subtropical to polar waters, whilst the latter could prompt the appearance of novel species in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Dialogue was also held on how to better attend to Descriptor 2 of the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive​, which stipulates that non-indigenous species introduced by human activities should be at levels that do not adversely affect the ecosystem. Indeed, one special topic of discussion revolved around the development of alien species indicators under Descriptor 2, including advancing ways to measure species' ecological impacts. ​

Extraterrestrial monitoring

Other important work carried out included looking at invasive organisms themselves, and a recurring item was the AquaNIS database​ – an online information portal used to document non-indigenous species (NIS).

"We looked at how to better employ the opportunities of AquaNIS in addressing several science and management aspects related to bioinvasions," explained WGITMO's Chair, Estonia's Henn Ojaveer. 

"As well as this, other species which received special focus were the jack-knife clam Ensis directus​ and the sea squirt Di​demnum vexillum​. The alien species alert report (to be published as an ICES CRR) was finalized for E. directus, and we decided that the D. vexillum will be the next alien species for which an alert report will be produced."​

Coastal collaboration

WGITMO's scientists and researchers weren't the only ones to descend upon the Lithuanian seaside town this week though. ICES/IOC/IMO Working Group on Ballast and Other Ship Vectors – WGBOSV – held their annual get together prior to the meeting of their peers, with the two groups joining forces on the Wednesday for sessions on both foreign biota in the Arctic region as well as biofouling: the gradual detrimental accumulation of microorganisms, plants, animals, and algae on wetted surfaces such as ship hulls. 

A truly global vision

The landmark 40th gathering, which has been under Ojaveer's chairmanship since 2011, had a multinational make-up, being attended by delegates from over 20 countries around both the ICES area and the Mediterranean Sea. Featuring representatives from the EU, the Mediterranean Science Commission (CIESM), North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES), the three-day meeting reflected recent links made by WGITMO with the same regional organizations. Future joint activities are also ​being planned - including an ICES-CIESM workshop on the alien comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi ​later this year.

One of the group's hallmark products – ICES Code of Practice on the Introductions and Transfers of Marine Organisms – has also attracted worldwide interest.




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Alien life continues after 40

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