Assessing the risk of non-native marine species in the Bering Sea

University of Alaska Anchorage, NOAA, Aleutian Bering Sea Islands Landscape Conservation Cooperative
By: , and 



Invasive species are one of the leading global conservation concerns, which can have strong, negative impacts on ecosystems, vulnerable species, and valuable natural resources. Arctic regions have experienced a relatively low number of biological introductions to date. Their geographical remoteness, cold waters, and presence of sea ice present challenging conditions for both non-native organisms and the vessels that transport them, presumably leading to low rates of introduction and establishment. However, observed increases in water temperatures reductions in sea ice, and projected increases in shipping traffic are expected to render arctic marine regions more susceptible to the arrival and colonization of marine invasives. Risk assessments for these Arctic regions are important to inform management and monitoring priorities by determining which species pose the greatest risk. To this end, we developed a ranking system for non-native marine species and used this system to assess the risk of non-native species to the Bering Sea. Using species’ published physiological tolerances, we mapped habitat suitability under current and future climate scenarios to identify geographic areas of current and future concern. In addition, we described shipping traffic from commercial and fishing vessels to identify ports of entry for non-native species. Collectively, these analyses identify which marine species have the greatest risk for invasion, where in the Bering Sea invasion risk and species establishment is greatest, and which ports are most likely to serve as an entry point for marine invasives into Alaska’s Bering Sea. The ranking system we developed for non-native marine species consists of 33 questions grouped into five categories. The first four categories evaluate a species’ ability to arrive and establish in the Bering Sea, its reliance on humans for introductions, its biology, and its impacts on ecological and human systems. The fifth category is not included in the total ranking score, but provides information on management considerations. The ranking system has methods to account for data deficiencies and calculates these deficiencies to allow readers to weigh the lack of knowledge with the ranking score. We prioritized non-native species for ranking based on their geographic proximity to the Bering Sea. We evaluated 46 species and ranking scores ranged from 29.1 to 74.3 (out of a possible 100), with highest scores indicating greatest risk. Taxonomy at the level of phylum did not explain variation in ranking values, likely due to the substantial biological variation relative to our ranking criteria among members of the same phylum. To investigate where non-native species may survive and persist in the Bering Sea, we compared species’ temperature and salinity thresholds to environmental conditions of the Bering Sea. Environmental conditions were obtained from three Regional Ocean Modeling Systems (ROMS) and investigated under two time periods: current (2003-2012) and mid-century (2030-2039). We identified potential habitat for survival for 42 species, and potential habitat for reproduction for 29 species. Under current conditions, all species had temperature and salinity thresholds that would allow survival in the Bering Sea for at least part of the year, and most species (79% to 83%) had thresholds that would allow for survival year-round. For species with temperature and salinity thresholds unsuitable for survival in the Bering Sea, winter temperatures appear to be the limiting factor. Most species had six to nine weeks of suitable conditions for reproduction. Future increases in water temperatures are expected to open more habitat for marine invasives. Two of the three ROMs project an increase in the number of non-native species that would be able to survive year-round by mid-century. Moreover, models project between 37% and 60% of the Bering Sea shelf habitat to become more suitable under mid-century climate condition.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Title Assessing the risk of non-native marine species in the Bering Sea
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher North Pacific Research Board
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 46 p.
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Bering Sea
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