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Pathways of fish invasions in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States

March 21, 2016

Non-native fish introductions are a major threat to biodiversity and fisheries, and occur through numerous pathways that vary regionally in importance. A key strategy for managing invasions is to focus prevention efforts on pathways posing the greatest risk of future introductions. We identified high-risk pathways for fish establishment in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States based on estimates of probability of establishment and records of previous introductions, which were considered in the context of emerging socioeconomic trends. We used estimates of propagule pressure, species’ environmental tolerance, and size of species pool to assess the risk of establishment by pathway. Pathways varied considerably in historic importance and species composition, with the majority of species introduced intentionally via stocking (primarily for sport, forage, or biocontrol) or bait release. Bait release, private stocking, illegal introductions intended to establish reproducing populations (e.g., of sport fish), aquaculture, and the sale of live organisms all create risks for future invasions in the Mid-Atlantic region. Of these pathways, bait release probably poses the greatest risk of introductions for the Mid-Atlantic region because propagule pressure is moderate, most released species are tolerant of local environmental conditions, and the pool of species available for transplantation is large. Our findings differ considerably from studies in other regions (e.g., bait release is a dominant pathway in the Mid-Atlantic region, whereas illegal introduction of sport fish is dominant in the western US and aquarium releases are dominant in Florida), demonstrating the need for regional-scale assessments of, and management strategies for, introduction pathways.