Ecological and Economic Implications of a Tropical Jellyfish Invader In the Gulf of Mexico

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Book Chapter

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Ocean Science and Engineering


A large population of a previously unreported jellyfish occurred across the northern Gulf of Mexico (USA) from May through September of 2000. The jellyfish, identified as Phyllorhiza punctata by von Lendenfeld (1884), is not indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico or to the Atlantic Basin. Current theory states that this invasive species was introduced into the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal about 45 years ago, and several confirmed reports indicated that a cryptic population may have existed in the northern Gulf since 1993. However, mesoscale hydrographic anomalies in spring 2000 may have directly transported the population from the Caribbean Sea where populations of P. punctata have been reported previously in Puerto Rico. We undertook a rapid-response sampling program from June through September to obtain ecological information regarding P. punctata in the highly productive northern Gulf waters. Jellyfish bell diameter increased by about 50% (from an average of 32 ±12 to 45 ± 6 cm) as animals invaded nearshore waters during July. As the summer progressed, a net westerly distribution shift followed nearshore currents to an accumulation point near the mouth of Lake Borgne, Louisiana, in the far western Mississippi Sound. In the Lake Borgne aggregation, we estimated 5.37 × 106 medusae over an area of about 150 km2. All of the medusae appeared to lack the symbiotic algae that are present in all other described populations, and therefore must have depended solely on planktivory for their nutrition. Clearance rates estimated from ambient zooplankton, gut contents and published digestion times ranged from <1 m3 d−1 for adult copepods to over 90 m3 d−1 for fish eggs. Based on these clearance rates, the central core of this aggregation (30 km2) was being turned over at least once per day with even higher turn-over in very concentrated’ super-swarms’. Clogging of shrimp nets was the greatest economic impact,and perhaps contributed to millions of dollars in economic losses. The indirect effect of predation on eggs and larvae of commercially important finfish and shellfish remained intangible in the determination of economic effects. In 2001, P. punctata has recurred along southern Louisiana and has apparently spread into the coastal and lagoonal waters of the Florida east coast.

Publication Title

Marine Bioinvasions: Patterns, Processes and Perspectives

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