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Investigating the cryptogenic status of the sea squirt Didemnum perlucidum (Tunicata, Ascidiacea) in Australia based on a molecular study of its global distribution

Dias, J., Rocha, R., Godwin, S., Tovar-Hernández, M.A., Delahoz, M., McKirdy, S., de Lestang, P., McDonald, J. and Snow, M. (2016) Investigating the cryptogenic status of the sea squirt Didemnum perlucidum (Tunicata, Ascidiacea) in Australia based on a molecular study of its global distribution. Aquatic Invasions, 11 (3). pp. 239-245.

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Didemnid species are assessed as species with a high invasive potential for Australia and as such are listed as target species for both state and national monitoring programs. The presence of the sea squirt Didemnum perlucidum (Monniot, 1983) was first documented in Australia in 2010 and has since then been detected extensively throughout the state of Western Australia and in the Northern Territory. These detections have raised important questions as to the origin and potential impact of this species in Australia. The current study was initiated to review the current known global geographic range of D. perlucidum and to obtain specimens that could support molecular studies aimed at evaluating the potential origin of this species in Australia. Characterization of 5’ COI mitochondrial sequences from 286 specimens revealed a remarkably low level of genetic diversity across the current known range of D. perlucidum and the existence of one main widespread genetic haplotype. Such findings suggest that all locations sampled in this study may in fact represent introductions of D. perlucidum and that the natural native range of the species remains unknown. Our demonstration that specimens (n=187) originating from across a broad expanse of the Australian West Coast were comprised of a single haplotype also lends support to the hypothesis that D. perlucidum is a species that has been introduced recently into Australia. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that D. perlucium distribution in Australia is mostly confined to artificial structures, it has displayed invasive characteristics, and its presence is now being detected across an increasingly wide geographical area. Given the demonstrated low level of genetic COI variation across its known global distribution, lack of clarity around its native range, and limited availability of data on this species globally, we recognize the requirement for further work to more fully elucidate the exact origins and patterns of distribution of D. perlucidum in Australia. This study represents the most comprehensive mapping of the current global distribution of D. perlucidum conducted to date and will hopefully motivate further studies aimed at elucidating this species biology, origin, high-risk routes and impacts.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Regional Euro-Asian Biological Invasions Centre
Copyright: © 2016 The Author(s).
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