Habitat niche breadth predicts invasiveness in solitary ascidians

Itai Granot*, Noa Shenkar, Jonathan Belmaker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


A major focus of invasion biology is understanding the traits associated with introduction success. Most studies assess these traits in the invaded region, while only few compare nonindigenous species to the pool of potential invaders in their native region. We focused on the niche breadth hypothesis, commonly evoked but seldom tested, which states that generalist species are more likely to become introduced as they are capable of thriving under a wide set of conditions. Based on the massive introduction of tropical species into the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal (Lessepsian migration), we defined ascidians in the Red Sea as the pool of potential invaders. We constructed unique settlement plates, each representing six different niches, to assess ascidian niche breadth, and deployed them in similar habitats in the native and invaded regions. For each species found on plates, we evaluated its abundance, relative abundance across successional stages, and niche breadth, and then compared (1) species in the Red Sea known to have been introduced into the Mediterranean (Lessepsian species) and those not known from the Mediterranean (non-Lessepsian); and (2) nonindigenous and indigenous species in the Mediterranean. Lessepsian species identified on plates in the Red Sea demonstrated wider niche breadth than non-Lessepsian species, supporting the niche breadth hypothesis within the native region. No differences were found between Lessepsian and non-Lessepsian species in species abundance and successional stages. In the Mediterranean, nonindigenous species numerically dominated the settlement plates. This precluded robust comparisons of niche breadth between nonindigenous and indigenous species in the invaded region. In conclusion, using Red Sea ascidians as the pool of potential invaders, we found clear evidence supporting the niche breadth hypothesis in the native region. We suggest that such patterns may often be obscured when conducting trait-based studies in the invaded regions alone. Our findings indicate that quantifying the niche breadth of species in their native regions will improve estimates of invasiveness potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7838-7847
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2017


FundersFunder number
Eilat Ashkelon pipeline company
Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat
Israel Electric Company
Mediterranean Sea Research Center of Israel
Smaller-Winnikow Foundation
PADI Foundation
Seventh Framework Programme614352, 321547
Marie Curie


    • Lessepsian species
    • introduction success
    • invasion
    • niche breadth
    • nonindigenous species
    • settlement plates
    • tunicates


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