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One step ahead of sea anemone invasions with ecological niche modeling: potential distributions and niche dynamics of three successful invasive species

Lucas H. Gimenez*, Reinaldo J. Rivera, Antonio Brante

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Established non-native sea anemone populations can affect the native community through multiple mechanisms, including predation and competition. The conservation of invaded communities is therefore of great concern and spatially explicit information is essential for the prevention or early detection of introductions. Here, we used ecological niche modeling to: (1) predict areas with invasion risk of three successful widespread invasive sea anemone species (Diadumene lineata, Exaiptasia diaphana, and Nematostella vectensis); (2) determine the invasion stage of current non-native occurrences; and (3) test the climatic match hypothesis of invasion success by assessing their environmental niche dynamics. Our results bring new insights to the invasion process of sea anemones, which is relevant considering the scarcity of monitoring efforts, the issues associated with their detection, and the potential ecological effects they generate on invaded communities. First, we provide potential distributions that could help to detect non-native populations early on. Second, we confirm a strong pattern of successful establishment. Finally, we demonstrate that the invasion success of these species has mainly occurred in areas with similar environmental conditions as those from their respective native ranges (i.e., climatic match, niche conservatism).