This past week CIEE Spring Semester students studied invasive species. During their class, they discussed some of the different ways that species can be introduced into a new ecosystem, such as aquarium releases, ballast water release, or by attaching themselves to floating docks or boats that move between ecosystems. After being introduced into a new ecosystem, the organisms must survive and reproduce, creating a new population, in order to be considered invasive.
However, not all species can become invasive. Successful invasive species typically are generalists, meaning they can eat a variety of different organisms and fulfill multiple niches. They are also usually fast growing with short generation times. Lionfish, for example, can produce millions of eggs each year and prey upon a wide variety of reef organisms, which is why they have quickly spread throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic.
After learning about how species can become invasive and how harmful they can be to the ecosystem they invade, our students went into the lab for a lionfish dissection. Each student had their own lionfish and they were tasked with locating different organs, such as the stomach, liver, swim bladder, and the otoliths. While examining the stomach contents, some students even found whole fish!
In the end, the students left with newfound knowledge of how biological invasions occur, the potential impacts on the invaded ecosystems, and what can be done to prevent these invasions.